A young boxing champion comes face-to-face with his father’s legacy and death in Creed II, the sequel to the 2015 box-office smash. Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson, the film is the eighth film to feature the popular Rocky Balboa character, now serving as mentor to Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the son of his late friend, Apollo.
After rising through the ranks to become a respected contender in the first film, Donnie enjoys his moment in the spotlight. His peace of mind is soon challenged by the emergence of a new challenger, Viktor Drago (played by newcomer Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu), the son of the boxer who killed his father, Ivan (Dolph Lundgren). The next generation “Creed vs. Drago” fight, paralleling the tragic events of Rocky IV, is the impetus, all the while exploring relationship and family issues with Donnie and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
Jordan delivers every ounce of physical energy needed for such a demanding role, but more importantly connects with the audience through the depth of his acting. Whether he’s hurt physically or emotionally, with a ravaged body or a single teardrop, you feel it and you root for him. Stallone, fully embracing Rocky as a mentor, delivers some of the film’s more memorable lines, whether guiding Creed through relationships or the boxing ring: “So now you ask yourself ‘Am I here to prove something to other people, or to prove something to myself?’”
Fatherhood, whether Rocky acting as surrogate parent, Apollo’s legacy or the expectations between Ivan and Viktor, is a frequent theme of the film. Unlike Donnie, Viktor grew up under the cloud of his father’s failure, driven by hatred and shame. The fight is his chance to redeem and restore his father in the eyes of his family and country. Ivan was a steely-eyed robot in Rocky IV; this time, there’s a deep emotional well to draw from. Discovering a new child on the way with Bianca, Donnie also adds another layer to his own inner struggles.
When the past catches up to the present, the thrilling fight between the two boxers provides vicious blows and edge-of-your-seat action. In our theater, viewers responded verbally, and I’d imagine it will be that way in cinemas everywhere. The story connects, and the audience is fully invested. That’s a testament to the director, Steven Caple, Jr., the screenwriter Cheo Hodari Coker, and the accomplished talent in front of the camera.
With longtime Rocky fans like me, the film had me at the tease of the Creed/Drago match, but it offered so much more. The film draws you in with the pulse-pounding action, but delivers its strongest punch with inspiration and heart. With a stylish take on an iconic story, it serves as the best example of what a reboot or sequel could hope to be.
Creed II releases Nov. 21 from MGM/Warner Brothers.