Since Ryan Coogler was busy making Black Panther, Sylvester Stallone took back the writing responsibilities (with Juel Taylor) for the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise. As a result, Creed II is as much a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV as a sequel to 2015’s stellar Creed and as much Rocky’s story as Adonis Creed’s.
In Creed II, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has won six bouts in a row and is about to fight Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler for the world title. Creed wins the fight and then, shortly after, proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and she says yes! At that point, Creed should be on top of the world but he’s about to learn that the championship belt is heavier than it looks, because he’s now the target of a bunch of wanna-be champs, including a Russian whose father killed Creed’s dad in Rocky IV. Creed will need Rocky’s help to beat the younger Drago, who so far has brutally beaten every boxer he’s gone up against.
Rocky’s part in this story is an important one. In fact, several pivotal events that happen to Creed are shown from Rocky’s point of view, suggesting this is Rocky’s franchise again. Which makes sense when Rocky himself is writing the story.
Is that a bad thing? Kind of, which is hard for me to say as a fan of the Rocky franchise. There’s something magical about the super cheesy and entirely predictable Rocky lovefests from Rocky II through to Rocky Balboa (Rocky is excluded because being the original, it is only predictable in retrospect). And Creed II captures that same magic at all the right moments. It’s a solid addition to this four-decade-old franchise.
But it’s a step back from Creed and that regression is further proof of Ryan Coogler’s genius (as if we needed any). With the first Creed, Coogler took the Rocky franchise in a new direction and included a ton of callbacks that riffed on the original formula without feeling derivative.
Unfortunately, Creed II doesn’t ever get to that same level because it is content to recycle the tried and true Rocky formula: a win at the outset, followed by a setback at an opponent’s hands, and then after a super-sweet training montage, a well-earned victory over that same opponent. Creed II executes that formula as well as any of the Rocky-titled films, but it never separates itself from that pack. Rocky fans will leave Creed II satisfied, but fans of Creed may be in for a bit of a letdown.