After winning the world championship, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is goaded into a fight by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed his father. With his faithful coach Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) deciding to sit this one out and growing pressure from his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thomspon), Adonis faces his greatest fight yet.
The film interrogates the motivations behind the fight as far as it can without reaching the entirely reasonable conclusion that they shouldn’t fight. Adonis insists it isn’t pride or revenge that motivates him but isn’t really able to offer a convincing alternative. He asks Bianca how she would feel if she couldn’t do what she loves and then compares this to how he would feel if he was unable to ‘finish this his way. It still feels like pride and revenge and he’s risking the wellbeing of his family for it.
I found myself more invested in Ivan and Viktor’s story. The story of what happens to a Rocky Villain after they lose. The cruelty of the culture that only values winners is explored briefly and there’s a beautiful act of defiance near the end of the film which demonstrates that Ivan has changed much more during the film that Adonis. I couldn’t help but feel as we moved into the climax that Viktor needed the victory more.
Of course the film needs to have a big fight at the end and can’t really end with our hero deciding that the fight isn’t worth it and walking away. That’s a Nicholas Winding Refn movie, not a Creed one. But this inability to solve the central dilemma of Creed’s motivation means the punches ring a little hollow.
However the film is terrifically entertaining as an action film. The fights are brutal, the montages are arresting and the characters are likeable. The film rightly doesn’t shy away from the homoeroticism of this franchise and offers some tender moments between the fighting men. There are some visually stunning moments, especially during training. The raw power of Viktor and the elegance of Adonis is powerfully contrasted.
There’s a great deal of acting talent in the film. Michael B Jordan makes Adonis a compelling lead. Relatable and charming but also frustrating and elusive. Tessa Thompson is wonderful, if underused, as the singer with deteriorating hearing. Sylvester Stallone has given himself all the best lines and is as effortlessly charming as ever. Dolph Lundgren slips back into the role of Ivan very naturally but with much added pathos. The thirty years since have made him a much more confident and capable performer.
The story of Creed 2 is very predictable and a little messy. There are some threads that are dropped at the film’s midpoint and the whole thing plays out just a little too safely. There are few surprises to be found and some of the dialogue is terribly cliched. Yet the film makes effective use of the mythology of the franchise. An excited giggle circulated the room when Ivan first appears in Rocky’s resturant.
Creed 2 lacks the refreshing style and depth of its predecessor but is still a very entertaining entry into the franchise. It’s unlikely to convert any non-believers but Rocky fans will be very pleased.