When Creed premiered in 2015, it told a story about the struggles of legacy by following the journey of boxer Adonis Creed, the long-lost son of world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, getting trained by his father’s former rival Rocky Balboa. This plot was the ideal companion to the behind-the-scenes journey of the young creatives rebooting the beloved, iconic Rocky series.
The result? Ryan Coogler’s direction was at once painstakingly meticulous and breathlessly dynamic, Michael B. Jordan stunned with undeniable performative talent, and Sylvester Stallone’s nostalgic movie star charm all but secured Creed’s place as a smash hit – but there was something missing in the picture: Ivan Drago, the boxer who killed Apollo in Rocky IV.
Creed II fills this gap by putting Adonis on a collision course with Viktor Drago, the son and student of Ivan. As a bigger, louder, brighter sequel, the film succeeds due to the functional directing of Steven Caple Jr., the hip hop-infused soundtrack, and, of course, the effortless charisma and chemistry of Jordan and returning starlet Tessa Thompson. Poignant character development and a love for the spectacle of professional boxing makes Creed II a solid popcorn flick but it finds itself in the same struggle with legacy as its predecessor, especially because of Coogler and Jordan’s global fame now that Black Panther is a groundbreaking success.
Creed II fails to measure up to its prequel’s white-knuckle thrills and seamless blending of nostalgia and innovation because of a reliance on manufactured emotional tension and a story that is far too predictable – hitting all the narrative beats right on cue. There’s none of the first film’s absorbing use of long takes, the matches are no longer filmed with the grandeur of Ancient Greek epics and the fight entrances no longer have that awe-inspiring use of slow-motion, neon and colour. It’s all safe – safe enough to guarantee box office returns for the studio while the audience suffers. You can hardly blame MGM; if a $173 million formula isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Just like the film he’s leading, Adonis Creed is a victim of his own success. As the new world heavyweight champion and a multi-millionaire with a beautiful wife, he makes for an unsympathetic protagonist especially when he’s contrasted with Viktor, who was raised in poverty and emotional abuse after his father’s fall from grace in 1985. Even when portraying Viktor as a Goliath with near-superhuman strength, Adonis never feels like the underdog and his successes always seem inevitable, no matter how much the film pretends otherwise.
The way Creed II tackles legacy speaks to the struggles of audiences in today’s reboot culture, who are fed the same bland, safe formula because of market demands. By playing it safe, the studios are practically printing money and with this film grossing $98 million already at the box office, they’ll have no reason to change course for Creed III.