Round two of the newly revitalised Rocky franchise sees Michael B Jordan back as Adonis Creed, who is this time faced with the return of the man who killed his father Apollo, the notorious Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). The Soviet menace isn’t alone, as he’s been training his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) and has an honour-restoring match on the mind. Director Steven Caple Jr takes over from Ryan Coogler, the latter having turned this sequel down due to Black Panther commitments, and the change at the helm can be felt. While 2015’s Creed payed homage to the previous films while blazing its own distinct trail, this sequel embraces Rocky lore a bit too heavily and the by-the-numbers result is a less satisfying instalment that plays out like a cheesy reworking of Rocky IV. Caple Jr’s execution is solid throughout, but he lacks Coogler’s sense of authenticity and technical bravado; there’s no sequence to equal Creed’s heart-stoppingly immersive single-take fight, and the action feels significantly more generic this time around. Sylvester Stallone gets a fair bit of deserved screen time, but whereas Rocky was a supporting player in Creed, this sequel sees the Italian Stallion get a co-writing credit and, as a direct consequence, sees his character become a more prominent figure. It’s a shame, as the titular protagonist frequently feels pushed aside and saddled with a cheaper arc, which makes him less sympathetic. As for Creed’s underused Tessa Thompson, she gets more to do here but is lumbered with some hokey developments that feel beneath her talents.
For its faults, the performances do make Creed II an enjoyable watch, even when it spells out its Shakespearian undertones about fathers and sons, wounded pride and toxic resentment. The treatment of how polar opposites Rocky and Drago interact with their protégés really works, and one of the more pleasant surprises is how the Dragos are not mere cartoonish antagonists; they are instead portrayed with their share of complexities, as their father-son dynamic hints at a well of unresolved issues that go from deep-seated shame to vicarious catharsis achieved through one’s offspring. It doesn’t offset the largely formulaic plot and the cornball melodramatics, but it makes a case for the possibility of a Creed trilogy not being the worst idea ever.
Creed II | Directed by Steven Caple Jr (US, 2018) with Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren. Starts January 24.
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