Creed II packs a solid sequel punch but has a rather muddy moral

Michael B Jordan returns as Adonis Creed, as does Sylvester Stallone as his mentor Rocky Balboa, in this follow-up to the 2015 boxing drama that sees a new—but familiar—opponent.

It’s a good follow-up, critic Adam Fresco writes, but don’t go expecting it to be as great as Ryan Coogler’s original.

The second Creed movie, and (for those counting) the eighth round in the Rocky franchise, packs a solid sequel punch. Though it lacks the knockout blow of Ryan Coogler’s first, unable to live up to the genuine surprise of a great series spin-off, it’s still an entertaining contender. Same as before but different, this instalment draws on the plot of Rocky IV, in which Apollo Creed is killed in the ring by Russian champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).

In a bid to avenge his father’s death, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) takes on Drago’s son Viktor for the heavyweight crown. Son pitted against son. Father against father-figure. Forget about subtlety, this is a Rocky movie. Heck, at one point a sports commentator even says “This is Shakespeare!”

It isn’t. It’s soap opera, with boxing as a metaphor.

The moral gets muddy here though because, whilst it’s the taking part, facing your fears and giving your all that really matter, winning matters more. Plus, you really notice how full on sadomasochistic boxing movies are—complete with montages of our sweaty near-naked hero in training pulling on giant chains, being smashed in the belly with medicine balls, and getting hit hard, repeatedly, because, as Adonis’ trainer Rocky (another great supporting performance from Sylvester Stallone) mumbles: “Ta bring the pain you first gotta take da pain.”

In a world focused squarely on fathers and sons, macho men asking what it means to be a man, ripped torsos and bulging biceps, it’s amazing to see Tessa Thompson so great again as Adonis’ hearing-impaired partner, Bianca, lending three dimensions to what could so easily have been yet another paper-thin female role. Taking over directing duties, Steven Caple Jr does a fine job, despite a script (co-written by Stallone) that leans a little heavy on the speechifying.

Still, while the second act’s a bit out of shape and the clichés are on the ropes, the tried and true Rocky formula stays intact—from training montages, that famous theme, a thrilling third act boxing match shot and edited for maximum impact, and just enough heart to stay the right side of sentimental slush. Whether you find the finale’s over-the-top music laugh-out-loud corny, a guilty pleasure, or tear-in-the-eye uplifting depends on whether you love Rocky movies, or find boxing to be a brutal, narcissistic blood sport, rather than, as one on-screen pundit pronounces, a game of “violent chess”.