Creed II, expectedly, is a direct follow-up to the surprise pseudo-Rocky sequel that debuted in 2015. The saga of Adonis Creed continues in his rise to the top of the boxing world. To keep things fresh, several years have passed between the two movies, so audiences get to see quite a progression of Adonis emerging from the shadow of his fallen father, to that of carving out his own legacy. That being said, the movie isn't so much a departure from the first film as it is an all-around improvement. While folks that enjoyed the first film will feel right at home—those that weren't the biggest fans may still yet have something to chew on this time around.
Michael B. Jordan feels like he's on the cusp of fully realizing the character of Adonis without Stallone's Rocky carrying the load. Moments where Stallone would normally steal scenes (as he did in the previous Creed film) now belong to Jordan, and he performs much better than his previous outing. Not to say that his performance was lackluster in Creed (1), but there is a noticeable improvement, and it helps fend off the potential fatigue that boxing movie-goers may experience. Stallone's Rocky is still plentiful this time around, though his presence feels less like a necessity and more of an added bonus. Tessa Thompson reprises her supporting role as Adonis's love interest, and their moments spent traversing through the up's and down's of their relationship present themselves as the film's brightest moments. We've come to expect the ferocity and brute strength mixed with agility and precision when it comes to boxing, but it's easily the tender moments that build these characters into believable entities that should resonate without audiences far longer than that of the hand-to-hand combat scenes.
On that note, the boxing sequences absolutely take things up a notch. What had always (and continues to still) bugged me about the Rocky films (Creed included) was the lack of defense. Rocky was always less boxing, and more Rock'em Sock'em Robots that either had their arms down at their sides, or were swinging for the fences. I'm sure that, to an extent, this was to over-dramatize the sport, but it always felt jarringly inaccurate to me. Sure, as a boxing fan growing up, I can see there being a case for my bias seeping in. However, it'd be the equivalent of watching a basketball movie with 100% shooting, and only half-court shots, or watching Remember the Titans or Rudy where every pass was a hail-mary touchdown. Feasible—technically, yes? But unnecessarily exuberant. Point being, Creed II throws some defense into the mix, and it pays off wonderfully. And it had to, because without defense, we'd have an antagonist a the size of a slimmed down Game of Thrones Mountain wailing away on a person half his size. (Not a fight I'd want to see, but maybe that's just me.)
From the villain side of things, Creed II surprisingly gives Ivan Drago's son, Viktor (Victor?), quite a bit of depth without all that much dialogue. For a character that basically starts off as questionably mute, Drago's best moments are snappy and poignant, and do well to portray the character in this gray area separate from that of his robotic father, crafted in the fires of Mount Doom—wait, wrong franchise. To backtrack, Viktor ends up feeling like one of the best villains that the franchise has had, and I would've loved to have seen him more. Much like Rocky, Ivan takes a bit of a backseat, but his story also gets a few layers added on and helps build the mythos behind his infamous Rocky IV beginnings.
Creed II is not only good, it's surprisingly good. With a franchise that I wasn't necessarily foaming at the mouth for a sequel for, it drives home the nail on nearly every major storyline from the first film, as well as resurrecting old ones. I can't imagine there not being a third film to close out Adonis's story due to the amount of success that this film should garner, but at the same time, it's not posed as an obvious precursor to the third act of a finale. Creed II stands firmly as a successful sequel without falling into the trap of being the obvious connecting tissue for a follow-up. If this is the last film to grace the Rocky franchise, fans can confidently rest easy knowing that it went out with a haymaker rather than a jab.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; potentially warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.