The Rocky series has had its highs and its lows, its Survivors and its random sentient robots, but one thing it’s always got right is the fights. They’re cinema boxing at its best, mixing the raw brutality of the squared circle with the charisma that’s so rare in the actual sport. And while Creed II – the sequel to 2015’s fantastic Creed – may not be the best written entry in the series, its fight scenes punch far above its weight, from the blood-pumping entrances to the meaty thwack of glove on face.
Creed II is a character piece at its heart, and that character is Adonis Creed, played brilliantly by a Michael B. Jordan fresh off his stint in Black Panther. He’s simultaneously a charismatic, self-assured fighter and a terrified, wibbling mess, struggling to differentiate himself from his late father, the former Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. After becoming Champion in the film’s opening act, Adonis’s realisation that he’s living Apollo’s life instigates a fight with imposter syndrome that’s genuinely quite depressing, especially after the son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his father, issues him a challenge and history is expected to repeat itself.
Creed II, even at 130 minutes, feels bloated
Florean Muntenau’s Viktor Drago is the opposite of Jordan, a taciturn, terrifying screen presence with a molten fury peeking out of his cool exterior. Dolph Lundgren reprises his role as Ivan Drago, looking less like the Russian Übermensch and more a bitter old man living vicariously through his son’s victories. There’s something sad about seeing Lundgren so old, watching the man who was once a tower of burly manmeat strap on a bulky body protector to spar with his son. But their dynamic is marred by a lack of screen time to explore it: they have about eight minutes together outside of the ring, and most of that is within the series’ infamous training montages. Consequently, their emotional development feels kind of cheap after the film has spent so long tidying the Dragos away.
This isn’t unique to the villains. Creed II, even at 130 minutes, feels bloated, with many peripheral side plots it can’t support vying for screen time and making many characters underwritten. Tessa Thompson, playing Adonis’s girlfriend Bianca, is hit worst by this, with a subplot about hereditary deafness that’s emotionally paint-by-numbers. Even Stallone, playing Rocky for the final time, spends the little time Creed II can spare for him mincing about his family in an unsatisfactory manner. Occasionally it lands a poignant emotional punch with its struggling characters, but rarely does it have the time or the focus to follow through.
But the hooks that Creed II does get through are elegantly and viscerally done. The performances are mostly fantastic, the training montages brutal and satisfying, the actual matches brilliant and pulse-pounding. It’s a film with a lot of heart and a surprising amount of style, and even if it’s a bit out of shape it’s proof the Rocky films are still bloody good at what they do best.