“Creed II”: close to a TKO

Illustration by Lindsay Hart

Samuel Goodrich, Staff Writer

“Creed II” has a lot to live up to, like Adonis Creed himself. While the film falls into the traps of its very nature as a sequel, it’s still a highly entertaining and thoughtful movie that is worth the watch for fans of the series.

“Creed” was a surprise critical and audience darling in 2015. Not only did it succeed on its own as an enthralling boxing and underdog story, it also expertly continued the “Rocky” storyline while remaining true to its roots. “Creed” is a powerhouse film with drama just as impactful as the fight scenes.

Three years later, previous director Ryan Coogler stepped away to let Steven Caple Jr. take over for the sequel.

Soon after taking the heavyweight world championship, Adonis is challenged by Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the boxer who killed Creed’s father during a boxing match three decades earlier. With not only his family’s pride on the line, Creed must decide if his newly-formed family matters more to him than avenging a past wrong.

The loss of Coogler in the director’s chair is felt immediately in the film’s lack of style. While there are beautiful and memorable shots here and there, the film lacks the gritty, passionate feelings of the first. This makes the sequel feel inconsequential overall.

This is also the issue with a sequel of this nature. Creed is no longer an underdog — he’s not fighting to gain a title, but to defend it. The story is inherently less interesting and heartfelt, with the best moments of “Creed II” spent with the characters outside the ring.

Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson once again give great performances and develop the relationship between Adonis and Bianca in interesting ways. Introducing marriage and a baby into the mix adds more stakes to the final match. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky adds more to the film, just like in the first iteration. His plot never interferes with the main one, but his emotional development and experience is felt in every line and action.

The scenes between these three characters — Adonis, Rocky and Bianca — are also more comedic and goofy, which is not necessarily a bad thing; it adds momentum to what could have been painfully dull moments. Despite the added momentum, these scenes feel too conventional. While the last film navigated conventional spaces in a unique manner, this sequel stays within the lines.

The same can be said for the boxing matches that are competently shot, but nowhere near as gut-wrenching or cringe-inducing as the first film. While I still felt emotional during these highly-anticipated moments, I couldn’t help but notice how my reactions to these fights were not as spirited as in the first film, which I half-watched while baking for Thanksgiving a few days before.

One of the most underappreciated aspects of the film is the Drago storyline, which follows Ivan’s fall from grace in his country and his attempts to mold Viktor into a champion. There is a true melancholy sadness to these scenes, and I wish we could see more of the father-son dynamic.

If “Creed” was about living up to expectations, ‘Creed II” is about maintaining them, specifically when it comes to relationships between fathers and sons. The best moments of the film are when the men interact with each other in candid, emotional ways. Rocky with Adonis, Ivan with Viktor, and Adonis with his dead father and his newborn child.

These themes, individual moments and general quality of the film keep it from becoming a disappointing sequel. “Creed II” understands what it is — it has the experience of the previous seven “Rocky” movies to be confident in retreading the formula. While it’s nowhere near as much of a knockout as its predecessor, this is still a particularly enjoyable film that can easily stand with the other “Rocky” films at the top of the Philly Art Museum steps.

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