In 2015, Ryan Coogler’s Creed came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest box office surprises of the year after taking a tired Rocky franchise and turning it into something fresh, original and highly lucrative. Coogler did this by managing to stay true to the essence of the original films and by adding his own twist on a much-loved story.
Relinquishing his directorial duties in Creed II in favour of writing and producing, Coogler has handed the baton to newcomer Steven Caple Jr in this impressive sequel which sees Michael B Jordan back as boxer Adonis Creed (son of Apollo Creed) and Sylvester Stallone as the iconic Rocky Balboa and Creed’s boxing coach.
After a triumphant win which sees him crowned world champion and with his singer girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) expecting their first child, Adonis Creed seems to be finally on his way to achieving everything he’s ever dreamt of. But when he is challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and the man who killed his father Apollo in a boxing match decades earlier, Adonis has no other option but to take the fight in order to settle old scores. However, with Rocky refusing to get involved in this generational grudge match, Adonis has to rely on Tony Burton (The Wire’s Wood Harris) to see him through a tough match with a much stronger opponent.
Steven Caple Jr, who must be commended for having his own vision instead of trying to emulate Cooglers’ winning formula, does a great job in presenting a narrative which is set to please both Rocky faithfuls and fans of this new incarnation. With a decidedly inspired hip hop aesthetic and an R&B soundtrack which also includes Tessa Thompson on several tracks, Creed II appears to be fully aware of its young demographic, but this doesn’t stop it from paying homage to its original source material with the inclusion of some iconic characters along the way.
Michael B Jordan puts in an impressive and measured performance all the while looking physically like the real deal. For her part Tessa Thompson is hugely likeable as Bianca whom she plays with a great deal of nuance and believability. Elsewhere, Stallone brings poise and vulnerability to an iconic character without ever overstepping the mark into the predictable.
On the whole, Creed II does exactly what is expected from it from the get go and is never too concerned about coming across as a little contrived in places. And while Coogler’s writing can sometimes descend into full on schmaltzy melodrama, you’ll still find yourself fully engaged and invested in the story, which is surely a testament to his ability to write hugely believable characters.
Creed II is in cinemas from Friday November 30th