“Creed II” review by Nate Blake

Directed by: Steven Caple, Jr.

Rated: PG-13

Length: 130 Minutes

I’ve been cautiously looking forward to Creed II ever since I spent Thanksgiving 2015 watching in awe as the Rocky franchise was reborn. I was, however, skeptical when I heard the sequel would revisit my least favorite entry in the franchise so far: Rocky IV. Yes, I’ll say it now, Rocky V is not my least favorite chapter in the saga. Rocky IV, though the most commercially successful in the franchise and one that was quite consequential for the characters of Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed and now Adonis Creed, is perhaps the quintessential example of 80s cheese. There’s a great story at its core, but too often its style gets in the way. Thankfully, Creed II revisits that story without all the stylistic blemishes, and is not only a great film in its own right, but makes Rocky IV a more worthwhile experience too.

The film opens with Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) racking up a string of victories after his loss to Ricky Conlan at the end of Creed. His victories culminate with him taking the World Heavyweight Championship. He has little time to savor his title, however, before Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) steps forward to challenge him. The Dragos are eager to win back the glory that their family lost when Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeated Ivan in Moscow in three decades earlier. The challenge is personal for Adonis, because Ivan killed his father Apollo in a match shortly before Rocky accepted the elder Drago’s challenge.

The drama in the ring is blended with plenty of developments in Adonis’ personal life, and Rocky’s as well. Some of where it goes is predictable, but the script by Stallone and Juel Taylor invests a wealth of personality into each character so that even the familiar moments are compelling.

Creed II falls a bit short of its predecessor, but is by no means a disappointment. On the contrary, it even corrects some of the former film’s flaws. One of the best things about the first half of Creed was Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who was fighting to make a name of her own while coming to terms with progressive hearing loss. It was disappointing when her arc was abruptly dropped in the final act of Creed. Thankfully, Bianca plays a bigger role here, and the film succeeds in large part to the dynamic between her and Adonis.

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Rocky’s arc isn’t as impressive as it was in Creed, but it doesn’t need to be. A late shot of him from behind, recognizable only by his iconic hat, as he proudly watches Adonis in the ring, was more powerful and worth the price of admission than any of the film’s callbacks to earlier entries in the series. Whether or not there is a Creed III, this is Michael B Jordan’s show now. I personally can’t think of a better way for the franchise to end than the final minutes of Creed II. It perfectly pays tribute to the intertwined legacies of Rocky, Apollo and Adonis. That said, I’ll probably be spending another Thanksgiving with these characters sometime in the future, and if the series keeps churning out chapters this enjoyable, that’s an agreeable proposition.

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