creed ii tessa thompson

Predictability and Surprises

You can absolutely, without question, accurately guess where Creed II goes from here. Adonis will heal, and learn to fight again. He’ll reconcile with Rocky. He’ll get back in the ring with Viktor for a rematch, and win. It’s as predictable as predictable can be.

Thankfully, there are a few surprises along the way that keep things fresh. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca continues to flourish, and thankfully, Tessa Thompson has a much bigger role. She’s still relegated to being the supportive girlfriend/fiance, but she makes the most of it. Thompson is a force of nature, and she knows exactly how to milk her big moments.

The child Bianca gives birth to, a daughter, has hearing loss at birth, and one of the movie’s most powerful moments is a heart-to-heart between Adonis and Rocky, in which Rocky tells Adonis that none of that matters as long as Adonis loves his daughter.

And then there’s the relationship between Ivan and Viktor Drago. At the film’s start, Ivan Drago and his son are presented as little more than pure evil. They’re both constantly scowling, stuck in slow-motion montages as scary music plays. A scene where Ivan shows up at Rocky’s restaurant is incredibly menacing, to the point where it almost feels like Rocky is having a meeting with the devil himself. This made me roll my eyes. The one major flaw the first Creed has was an undeveloped antagonist, and I was worried the sequel’s script – by Stallone and Juel Taylor, with a story by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker – and I was worried Creed II would suffer the same fate. Or worse, I worried that it would pain its villains in broad strokes, and be little more than a simple revenge tale.

But as Creed II goes on, the characters of Ivan and Viktor, and their tumultuous relationship, began to grow. Boxer Florian Munteanu isn’t the most nuanced actor, and he’s not given a whole lot to do. But Dolph Lundgren gives perhaps the best performance of his career as the broken and weary Ivan. Ivan sees his son as a tool to work his way back into Russian high society. In many ways, he exploits his son. He exploits the rage that’s built up in the boy due to his mother, Ludmila (played by Rocky IV’s Brigitte Nielsen in an extended cameo), leaving the Drago’s to marry a richer, more prominent man. At first, Ivan doesn’t care about any sort of emotional or physical toll this journey might take on Viktor. But by the time of Creed II’s final battle, Ivan has adapted; evolved. He finally realizes that climbing back up into high society isn’t as important as making sure his son his safe. And so, as Adonis and Viktor have their rematch, and as Adonis pummels and beats Viktor into raw meat, Ivan does what Rocky failed to do for Apollo all those years ago – he throws in the towel. The tender, emotional moment when Ivan tells his beaten son that the defeat is okay is acted wonderfully by Lundgren.

The acting – from Lundgren and the three main leads – is what ultimately saves Creed II. Jordan, who excels at playing cocky-but-tormented characters, once again lights up the screen. His boisterous attitude clashes with his inner turmoil, and the actor does great work playing up Adonis’ tamped-down emotions. So much of Adonis’ character is built around saying one thing, while clearly feeling completely different, and Jordan sells this perfectly with his eyes, and his pained expressions.

Before the first Creed, I don’t think I would have ever considered Sylvester Stallone a “good” actor. To be clear: I never thought Stallone was bad. He was just very onenote, and while I found myself enjoying him in many of his films, I never stopped and thought, “What a great performance!” That changed with Creed, in which the aging actor turned in a touching, vulnerable performance as the slow-witted but good-hearted old Rocky. Stallone continues that here, once again doing some of the best work of his career. The shuffling, shambling, clumsy way he moves through the film is a sight to see – he’s a man who has been battered and bruised and broken by too many fights. He’s tired, and most of all, he’s old. The real Stallone is much more spry, much more youthful for his age. Playing Rocky in the Creed films allows him to act his age, in a sense. The mentor/mentee chemistry between Stallone and Jordan is once again a highlight, although it begins to tip into a repetitive area. Perhaps realizing this, Creed II throws in a very minor subplot about Rocky reconnecting with his estranged son (played in a surprise cameo by Milo Ventimiglia).

creed iii

Rematch

That acting isn’t enough to always elevate a clumsy, unsubtle script. Subtlety was never the name of the game of the Rocky franchise, but watching Creed II makes you appreciate how smart the script for the first Creed – by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington – was. Here, Stallone and Taylor can’t resist leaning heavily into fan-service. As a result, the script has Drago deliver a various of his famous Rocky IV quote “I will break you!” at least four different times. It gets clumsy, and annoying.

Also annoying: ringside announcers who serve as a kind of Greek chorus. This is nothing new to the franchise. Even the first Creed had some of this. But Creed II takes it to the next level. Every time there’s a fight, we’re forced to listen to announcers more or less narrate the thematic elements of the film. “Can Adonis Creed forge his own legacy?!” they cry. And, “A Creed and a Drago in the ring together again!? I never thought I’d see the day!” You just want them to shut the hell up and allow us to enjoy the fights on their own terms.

Caple, Jr. does a fine job staging those fights – bringing us into the ring with Adonis and Viktor, and getting us up close and personal with each punch. And there’s nothing quite as thrilling as hearing Bill Conti‘s familiar Rock fanfare kick-in during a fight. But the director stumbles with moments outside of the ring. A lengthy training sequence, in which Rocky takes Adonis to a kind of Mad Max–style outdoor gym, borders on painful in how uninspired, and point-and-shoot, it’s shot. It’s perhaps unfair to compare Caple, Jr. to Coogler, but the entire time I watched Creed II, I couldn’t help but think: “I sure wish Ryan Coogler had directed this.”

As Creed II draws to a close, it looks like Adonis has finally stepped out of his father’s long shadow. A graveside chat effectively closes the book on the legacy. I have no doubt we’ll get a Creed IIICreed II is already a box office knock-out. But when the third film rolls around, I can only hope it finds a new story to tell. I hope it will stop milking the Rocky franchise, and create something new. And, yes, I hope Ryan Coogler returns for a rematch.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net