Rocky Balboa has been one of the most successful characters in American cinema history. It's not really that surprising, us Americans love all the things that Rock has provided movie goers for almost half a century. A chronic underdog with a big heart and even bigger muscles, prizefighting for honor, country, and family. The first Creed movie was a fantastic continuation of the Rocky franchise that displayed how to properly reboot a beloved series. Creed II is a perfect example of how to spoil all of that.
Creed II starts off with Adonis Johnson (Creed) having rattled off 6 straight wins after his heroic loss at the hands of 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan, and now the new pride of Philadelphia fights for his shot at the heavyweight title. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a new challenger arises bearing a big name and an even bigger right hook to take the boxing world by storm and restore what was once a proud family. His name is Viktor Drago, son of Ivan "I must break you" Drago.
This time around Ryan Coogler, director of the first Creed and obviously too busy with his other franchise, Black Panther, serves as only executive producer and hands off the reins to Steven Caple Jr. to direct. Caple Jr. is said to have been handpicked by Coogler to continue the franchise and while I do have some major beefs with this movie, Caple Jr. does a great job of both continuing the story while bringing some new ideas of his own.
Where Creed II massively succeeds is in it's incredibly realistic fight scenes. Everything from the style of boxing to the fight commentary by Max Kellerman, Roy Jones Jr., and the legend himself Jim Lampley is so on point it will make even the slightest boxing fan get shivers down their spine. The big hits and massive momentum swings are still present from the older movies but with some much needed realism, something Creed did beautifully and I am happy to say is continued flawlessly here.
Outside of the ropes is where my love for the movie starts to dwindle and unfortunately that is where most of our time will be spent. Nearly every character from the first movie returns but this time around I found it very hard to care or even root for them. Adonis has seemed to learn nothing from his experiences in the first movie and instead falls into the familiar trappings.
Bianca, Adonis's SZA rip off of a girlfriend/fiance may be the worst offender in this race to see who the least likable character in the movie. I'm not sure if her subtle selfish tones were on purpose or just the writers misunderstanding of what it means to be a woman in such a male-centric movie, but the look of jealousy on her face when Adonis uses music other than hers as a walkout song should tell you exactly who they wanted this character to be.
That is not to say that all of the characters here are unlikable. Wood Harris returns as Tony 'Little Duke' Burton, the opposing trainer from the first movie to add something new to the formula. Of course, Balboa himself returns as noble and likeable as ever but it is with the "villain", Viktor Drago, that the movie does it's best character work.
It almost makes me wish we had gotten that Drago movie that we were teased all those years ago. Viktor has real stakes here, his family has been all but ostracized in his home country of Russia after his father's epic loss on home turf to Rocky and under the tutelage of Ivan, Viktor fights to restore his family name. Other than a few "cheap shots" both in the ring and plot wise, Viktor is the vastly more heroic figure and I even found myself wanting him to win on more than one occasion.
These mixed feelings on who the real protagonist of the movie would hit so much harder if the true protagonist was in any way likable or had a real story of redemption even close to that of Drago's. This is just one of the ways that the writing let me down here. The events that open the movie have about as high a stakes as a boxing match can have and all of the rest feel tame in comparison.
There is something comforting in almost knowing exactly how a Rocky movie will turn out. Win or loss is not the end all be all for these movies, but how they got there and what they learned along the way is much more important. Creed II fails to provide that same feeling of redemption and inner strength that almost every other Rocky movie has done so well. Without too many spoilers, having a child with a slight disability in the middle of the movie to show the strength of the main character is not proper development and is in fact a lazy emotional grab.
Creed II is not a bad movie but a fundamentally flawed one. It is well made and for the most part well acted with some great characters that we know and love, but the majority of this movie's story and character beats feel rushed and frankly seem like an afterthought. I hate to use a phrase like 'cash grab' because I am sure that loads of people who worked on this movie were passionate and wanted to make the best Rocky/Creed movie they possibly could but the lack of foundation and effort put into the writing is staggering.
Like the last movie i reviewed, Bohemian Rhapsody, there is something worthwhile here for big time fans. The boxing is still at the highest level we have seen on screen since Raging Bull, the antagonist is as good as we have had in a Rocky movie for quite some time and Rocky is as Rocky as ever, but there are just too many maddening flaws for me to say that this was a great addition to the series.