If Ryan Coogler’s Creed didn’t exist and Steven Caple Jr.’s Creed II had been the first reboot of the Rocky franchise, then it would kind of be an okay, albeit totally predictable, movie that’s still more about Rocky Balboa than Adonis Creed. But we live in a world where Creed does exist, it’s an excellent movie, and primarily a character examination of a young fighter who’s trying to find his place in the world. By comparison, Creed II is the lazy, obvious, bland story of Apollo Creed’s son fighting Ivan Drago’s son while Rocky dishes out pearls of wisdom. Caple directs the hell out of the boxing matches, but everything in between feels like Rocky trying to claw his way into Creed’s story and everything with Creed’s story discarding what he learned in the first movie.
After rising through the ranks of heavyweight contenders, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) becomes the heavyweight world champion, but his victory is short lived with the emergence of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’ father Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in 1985’s Rocky IV. Meanwhile, the film borrows from Rocky II with Apollo proposing to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) only for the couple to soon discover that she’s pregnant. However, despite having so much to lose, Adonis can’t give up on fighting against Viktor. Throughout it all, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is there to dole out wisdom and be right about everything.
If the first Creed was about Adonis Creed finding his own place in the world and learning his value as a fighter, Creed II wipes all that way to bring Adonis back to being an angry young man who wants revenge but has to learn to find his own place in the world and learn his value as a fighter. It’s like Creed II just decided to ignore the point of Creed so that writers Juel Taylor and Stallone could tell a similar story in a less compelling way. This means making Creed angry all over again and saying horrible things like throwing Rocky’s cancer diagnosis in his face when Rocky says he won’t train Creed for the fight against Drago. Creed doesn’t really have a reason to be this angry and spiteful; the film just needs to reset him so we can get a weaker version of a story we’ve already seen.
Oddly enough, the more interesting story at the heart of Creed II belongs to the antagonists. Drago lost everything after his fight to Rocky and so he devoted his entire life to training his son to be a better fighter. There’s something tragic and powerful in the story of a father pinning all of his dreams on his son, but it falls apart when put into the framework of a revenge story. What was Drago’s plan? Was he hoping Rocky’s son Robert would become a fighter? Did he hope that one day Apollo Creed’s son would become a fighter and then seek out Rocky Balboa as his trainer? Even from Creed’s side, the story doesn’t make much sense because if Drago’s son had become an accountant or something, how would Creed ever get revenge? Matching Apollo Creed’s son against Ivan Drago’s son feels like the laziest kind of fanfic.
For those that only want to see Creed for training montages and boxing matches, you’ll be satisfied with what Caple delivers. It’s clear that Stallone sees boxing and montages as the heart of most of the sequels—they’re certainly what comprise the majority of Rocky IV along with flashbacks to the previous movies—and they’re fine for what they are. I will never feel more out of shape than watching Michael B. Jordan train, but it’s a thrill watching him get in shape for a fight. And when we get into the ring, Caple really makes you feel every blow.
But after the stellar Creed, good fight scenes and training montages aren’t enough. Coogler showed that Adonis Creed was worthy of a character-driven story that happened to involve boxing. It was far more in the vein of the original Rocky than the Rocky sequels. Sadly, Creed II is about following the template of those sequels, scaling back on personal growth in favor of predictable conflict. Rocky IV ends with Rocky saying, “if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” but Creed II is the same old sequel.