With 2015’s Creed having provided a refreshing sequel-cum-reboot for the Rocky franchise, Steven Caple Jr.’s follow-up to that movie, Creed II, is now hitting Blu-ray and DVD. Is this another impressive effort worth your time or is it merely one round too many for this long-standing franchise? Let’s step in the ring and take a look.
As the action picks up here, we’re quickly sped through Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed working his way up the ranks and toppling Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward) to become the WBC World Heavyweight Champion. Things are going well for Adonis; the World Champ, marriage to Bianca (Tessa Thompson) on the horizon, and global fame in his grasp. Of course, we all know that can only mean one thing: something bad is waiting just around the corner.
That bad? That’s the imposing threat of Florian Munteanu’s Viktor Drago. Franchise veterans will be well aware of the Drago name, for Vikor’s father Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) famously killed Adonis’ pops Apollo in the opening act of Rocky IV. Now, Ivan and his son have their sights on Adonis and his title belt as they look to drag themselves out of the squalor and shame they suffer in their homeland of Russia. You see, while the Rocky IV aftermath only served to further propel Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa to superstardom, Ivan was deemed a disgrace and disowned by his nearest and dearest. Here, through his unstoppable, unrelenting son, Ivan Drago has a shot at getting his life back on track and reclaiming the respect he so desperately craves.
The public challenge from the father and son Drago duo to Adonis is, obviously, merely a cheap PR trick to launch themselves into the spotlight, and Jordan’s Donnie knows this. But still, there’s far more at play here as this time it’s personal (isn’t it always in a Rocky movie?) for the ghost of Apollo Creed lingers large over his son. To throw a spanner into the mix, mind, everyone else can see that this is a fight that Donnie should steer clear of for a multitude of reasons; Rocky, Bianca and even Donnie’s mother (the returning Phylicia Rashad) butting heads with the stubborn Heavyweight Champ over this issue. Even more so, given that Bianca is expecting a baby. Is this a fight that has too much emotion for Adonis? Is it a fight that he can even win? Could he end up suffering the same fate as his father? And if he were to take on such a battle, is it worth the potential cost to him, both personally and professionally?
And to think, that extensive write-up you’ve just scrolled through is just the tip of the iceberg for Creed II, with there plentiful other twists and turns along the way. Fear not, though, for the execution of this ever-evolving narrative is masterfully handled by director Steven Caple Jr. (replacing Creed’s Ryan Coogler on directing duties after Coogler was tied up with the stunning Black Panther). Caple Jr. manages to effortlessly let the film breathe and develop at a slow and steady pace, yet when the action comes it is electric, explosive and will have you feeling every body blow.
Michael B. Jordan once again steps into the Adonis Creed/Donnie Johnson role and is just pitch-perfect as we see the character go through a whole range of emotions; from ecstasy, to anger, to the lowest of lows, and to slowly building himself back up once again. Jordan consistently proves himself to be one of the best actors of his generation, and Creed II only backs up that reputation. Away from the titular Adonis, however, it is yet again Tessa Thompson’s Bianca who is the emotional heart of the movie. Much like Adrian was always the heart of the Rocky movies – even managing to continue to be that after the character was killed off! – it’s Thompson’s Bianca that holds the picture together and is the voice of reason, the emotional core of the tale, and the anchor that so often keeps things grounded.
You can’t not talk about a Rocky franchise feature and make no mention of Syl Stallone, of course, and Stallone continues to bring that loveable, bumbling everyman charm to Rocky Balboa. A wry smile here, a mumbled one-liner there, and always with the best of intentions, it never fails to impress to think how far both Stallone and Rocky have come together; the action icon wearing his most famed creation like a second skin.
On the opposite side of the fence, Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago is an intense, demanding presence, yet the character wisely never gets to take too much of the spotlight from his son Viktor. As Viktor Drago, we have amateur boxer and fitness fanatic Florian Munteanu. Think a living, breathing He-Man, for Munteanu is a man mountain chiselled out of granite. Much like how Ivan Drago was utilised in Rocky IV, each and every blow landed by Munteanu’s Viktor will have audiences wincing. For what is needed, Munteanu is a perfect fit as the monstrous machine positioned as the polar opposite of Adonis; the sons of two former fighters who have ended up on completely contrasting, yet eerily similar paths.
If you’re a fan of the Rocky, and now Creed, franchise, you will absolutely adore Creed II. Is it cheesy? Hell yeah. Is it predictable? Possibly. Is it oozing with machismo? A tad. But that’s part of the fun with the Rocky franchise. Take the great performances on display, add in a strong, emotional story, throw in plentiful nods and references to what has come before, and this is as Rocky a movie that there’s ever been. And for all the detractors, a Rocky movie is nothing if not brimming with heart – which is again the case here with Creed II.
Full of moments that will have franchise fans watching through teary eyes at the first sniff of an emotional beat or fist-pumping anthem, Creed II is a worthy sequel to an absolutely fantastic movie, and we can only hope that there’s more to come from Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis.
In terms of special features, the easy standout is the grin-inducing Rocky Legacy featurette that takes a look back through the franchise and why it’s so special to so many – complete with input from various cast and crew, plus the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.
Special Features: Three featurettes / Deleted scenes
CREED II / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: STEVEN CAPLE JR. / SCREENPLAY: SYLVESTER STALLONE, JUEL TAYLOR / STARRING: MICHAEL B. JORDAN, SYLVESTER STALLONE, TESSA THOMPSON, FLORIAN MUNTEANU, DOLPH LUNDGREN, PHYLICIA RASHAD / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 25TH