BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Creed 2 picks up a few years after the first film where Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) wins both his Mustang and the world championship title from Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler. With Johnson now the world champion, from the shadows emerges Ivan Drago and his son Viktor to challenge him, not just the title, but for a chance at redemption. After the events of Rocky IV, we find Ivan was left disgraced not only in front of Russia, but his family as well. Ivan’s wife left him to care for his young son, who he has been raising and training for just this moment. Against Rocky’s best advice young Creed (of course) lets his anger get the best of him and he takes the bait in a chance to avenge his father’s death. But the match doesn’t quite play out as expected.
While the first film felt very much like its own creature, Creed 2 feels more like hybrid of the new and the old. When Adonis discovers he doesn’t quite have what it takes to take on Viktor, its Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to the rescue, who takes the boxer to Mexico for a super intense training montage à la Rocky IV, to give him the edge he needs. Michael B. Jordan pulls more into the lead this time around, turning in a performance that pushes the young actor to his limits. While he gets a pass for most of the film, it’s his intense moments with Stallone where the seams begin to show in his performance. Stallone here is once again a gift on screen as he comes face to face with Dolph Lundgren in what is easily one of my favorite moments of the film as these acting legends come face to face as these iconic characters.
But the heart and soul of this film is without a doubt Tessa Thompson who steals the film this time around as Bianca, aka The Girlfriend of Adonis, who’s tasked with keeping him in line after he parts ways with Rocky and moves to LA. Bianca’s story here is the most tragic of all as the handicapped singer with all her potential slowly slipping through her fingers, as her hearing continues to deteriorate. She’s forced to watch her own dream crumble as she is faced with managing her man-child of a husband as his dream as his dream devolves into a nightmare. Refusing to recede into the background like Adrian or Mary Ann, she is the true hero of this film.
Creed 2 film doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the original but is still a quasi-satisfying chapter in the Rocky franchise. Director Steven Caple Jr., who is relatively new to the game, isn’t Ryan Coogler and it shows, especially when it comes to keeping his antagonist interesting; which is a hallmark of these great films. It’s almost like he forgot about Viktor Drago about three quarters of the way through the film. Creed 2 is also filled with grim foreshadowing about the end of Stallone’s iconic character. The real question here after the credits roll is when Stallone finally hangs those battered Chuck Taylors up will Jordan be ready to fill those shoes?