Creed II hits all the right notes, and then just keeps hitting, and hitting, and hitting. How does this movie have the same running time as Creed? That movie felt muscular. This one feels flabby—2% body fat and 40% exposition.
The truly winning thing about Creed was Stallone’s graceful step down to a supporting role. After six movies, Rocky quietly slipped the ropes and hung his hangdog expression in the coach’s corner. Michael B. Jordan was a faster, prettier boxer, and Ryan Coogler’s energetic direction was the perfect complement. Same plot, new look, new sound: exactly what the franchise needed.
But Creed II is Rocky 8 through and through. It’s got three generations of Creeds, two generations each of Dragos and Balboas, and character arcs to go with all of them. That’s a lot of threads to get tied up in a ten-round punch-up.
All right then: many decades and sequels ago, Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed in the ring when Balboa failed to throw in the towel, leading to a vengeful showdown in which Balboa beat Drago, Russia, communism, and technological innovation into shameful submission with punches made of America. Drago, we learn at the beginning of Creed II, was subsequently shunned by the Russian elites and divorced by his wife, who left him with their son Viktor. Disgraced and abandoned, Ivan has singlehandedly trained Viktor into a boxing powerhouse, and the duo plans to challenge Apollo’s son Adonis to a highly-publicized fight in order to win his way back into Russia’s good graces. Meanwhile, Adonis is at the peak of his boxing career, and thinking less about fighting and more about family.
Okay…but it’s not about Creed. In Creed, Jordan’s character drove the action from start to finish. Creed II is story by character committee. Every one of Creed’s choices is discussed and second-guessed by supporting characters through increasingly redundant dialogue scenes, until it feels like the Dragos, in all their glowering Russian menace, are the only ones who can just show up and knock out a story beat. How often can we watch Creed argue with loved ones, anyway, when the boxing movie formula is going to win every fight?
It’s not bad that Creed II aims for bigger roles for love interest/up-and-coming singer Bianca and widowed mother Mary Anne Creed, and for Balboa, who’s given some nonsense storyline of familial disconnect that’s a thematic retread of the sixth movie. What is bad is that the movie’s skeleton can’t support it. These three are archetypes that can only stretch so far, and so you get unfortunate little moments, as when the marquee at Bianca’s performance proclaims “One night only!” and you think, this probably is the last we’ll hear about her career. And it is, and Creed talks through her entire performance.
So Creed II is over-familiar and overstuffed, enough to muddle even the final fight. Wow, though—what a fight! The movie may deliver too much, but it does deliver. Viktor Drago is one of the series’ best villains, Ivan and Rocky make for engaging if scene-stealing elder statesmen, and the fighting and training sequences have a nice, hard energy to them. The movie might be wearing too much padding, but it’s not pulling punches.