The inciting incident of Creed II revolves around the eponymous boxer’s first-generation Mustang, but he probably should have been driving a mid-’70s Mustang II. It’s slower, less visually appealing and generally defanged when measured against the genuine article. In short, it’s something that fails to capture the rugged integrity and raw visceral appeal of the original. That’s Creed II in a nutshell — a reasonable facsimile of its predecessor that never quite manages to hit the same grace notes. It may be closer to a fair comparison to evaluate Creed II alongside Rocky IV, rather than the 1976 progenitor of the franchise or its immediate sequels, in which case this one stacks up rather more favorably. But considered in the context of the series as a whole, the present film feels distinctly redundant.
Still, for those who were taken with the first Creed, this is a perfectly acceptable follow-up treatment. Crowned heavyweight champ in the first minutes of the film, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) finds himself called out by monstrous Vitor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Rocky IV antagonist Ivan Drago, for a generational grudge match. If you don’t know where this is headed by the time the second act rolls around, you might have the attention span of the 8-year-old who kept running in and out of the screening I attended. Creed II checks all the right boxes, and for some, that will suffice. I, unfortunately, had harbored higher hopes.
That box-checking proves to be so rote and predictable that it often threatens to take you out of the film entirely. Does anybody really believe that, when, an hour into the movie, our hero fights his antagonist, he has a snowball’s chance of winning? What would the rest of the movie be about? While it’s fun for folks of a certain age (such as myself) to see Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren reprise their iconic roles as Rocky and Ivan Drago some 30 years on, it also rates relatively high on the “so what” scale. Coupled with an almost offensively formulaic script from Cheo Hodari Coker, Sascha Penn, Juel Taylor and Stallone, Creed II becomes an object lesson in diminishing returns.
But then again, so did pretty much every Rocky sequel. Am I expecting too much of the eighth iteration of these stories? Probably. I usually do when it comes to such matters. But I can’t escape the feeling that this film could have been much, much better had it simply not tried so diligently to conform to the preexisting template laid out by its antecedents. Director Steven Caple Jr. is nowhere near as capable a stylist as Creed director Ryan Coogler has proven to be, and with a script this pedantically derivative, Creed II could have used a better director (and a set of better writers) in its corner. If you’re dedicated enough to the Rocky franchise or its Creed progeny to accept whatever is offered, this installment won’t disappoint egregiously. But if you’re looking for a follow-up original enough to stand on its own merits, you’ll find that Creed II is punching above its weight.