Let's begin with family. With fathers and sons. Love and defeat. Forgiveness and redemption. The heart of Creed II , the sequel to Ryan Coogler's mostly perfect 2015 boxing flick, pumps with all the typicality of the sports movie canon, though director Steven Caple Jr. works tirelessly to mainline such themes with contemporary resonance. The result lands somewhere in the middle: a boxing epic trapped by the legacy of all that came before it—the generation-defining intensity of the Rocky saga; the visual poetry of Coogler's predecessor—even as it fights to ascend to their elevated planes.
- Jason Parham
The Ryan Coogler Effect: What Black Panther 's Success Means for Black Directors
- Angela Watercutter
Michael B. Jordan Is a Black Panther Encyclopedia
- Jason Parham
Black Panther Is All a Superhero Movie Can Be, and More
To hear Buddy Marcelle tell it, "Rumble in the Jungle didn't just manifest itself … You need a narrative. Something that sticks to the ribs." Marcelle (Russell Hornsby) is a boxing promoter, a sort of low-carb Don King, and every bit the shark. Still, his words are not without truth, and newly minted light-heavyweight champion Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) knows this. It's why he accepts the challenge from Viktor Drago (an imposing Florian Munteanu). The match isn't for fame, money, or adoration—all of which Adonis has in excess these days—but for family, his father, the reclamation of his birthright. The kind of narrative that sticks to the ribs.
If the name Drago sounds familiar, it should. In 1985's Rocky IV , the feared Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) beat Apollo Creed, Adonis' father, breathless in the ring, killing him. Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa later avenges Apollo's death, but the consequence of triumph comes at a cost. Those long-simmering furies is where Creed II commences.
Left to a working-class existence in the bleak tundra of Kiev, the elder Drago was ripped of everything in his loss to Rocky: "Country, love, respect." And so the son must exact retribution in his father's name. Ivan will do anything to return honor back to the former Soviet Empire, and thus himself, even as Viktor remains conflicted by his father's motivations. Ivan hungers for acceptance among the Russian elite, the very same people who disowned him after his headlining loss. This is where the lifesource of the film shows itself. More than anything else, Creed II is a film about fatherhood, its necessary failures and its hard-won victories.
For all its flash and emotional vibrancy, Creed II is largely an uneven experiment in boxing cinema, laced with the sweet footwork and lyrical bloodthirst of any great sparring match but predictable in all the ways sports flicks have become.
Rocky and Adonis' relationship is also tested, the former seeing Apollo for what he was, the latter seeing him for what he wasn't. This, expectedly, causes a rift in their bond, and fuels the film's final acts. Fearful of the past, Rocky decides to forego training Adonis for the title match, which sends the young fighter down a path in which he must confront all that haunts him: death, defeat, and what he's ultimately fighting for.
For all its flash and emotional vibrancy, Creed II is largely an uneven experiment in boxing cinema, laced with the sweet footwork and lyrical bloodthirst of any great sparring match but predictable in all the ways sports flicks have become. Caple Jr.'s landscape is best understood through its onscreen relationships; they can hum with life, as is the case with Adonis and girlfriend Bianca (a magnetic Tessa Thompson), or they can flat-line completely. Stallone's Rocky feels less essential this time around; even as he tries to rebuild a connection with his biological son, his mentorship often presents itself through a series of simple, childlike maxims. "Sometimes when you want to make a change, you have to change things" might have worked on the page, but tautology can't cover triteness.
The genius of the original film was Coogler's ear for reinvention: He upended the Rocky franchise while still lending it an air of relevance. And Caple Jr. delivers a more than satisfying film (his 2016 feature, The Land , about four Cleveland teens trying to arise from their circumstances was utterly fantastic). It's not that Creed II wants for such reinvention, it's that moments of transcendence rarely arrive—either for the characters or for the film itself.
I think that's the most vital lesson I left with: that with precious few exceptions—among them, A League of Their Own , The Wrestler , and Oliver Stone's Shakespearean opus Any Given Sunday —a sports movie can only be, or do, so much. And this one is simply a product of history's parameters: impassioned and glazed with drama in all the right spots, but rarely venturing to higher planes. Creed II is a safe bet—not because it lacks heart, but because it does exactly what you expect it to.
- How to safely and securely dispose of your old gadgets
- This genius neuroscientist might hold the key to true AI
- PHOTOS: When your baby is actually made of silicone
- Online conspiracy groups are a lot like cults
- Pipeline vandals are reinventing climate activism
- Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter