Creed managed the rarest of things, successfully handing the franchise baton on to a new generation. In comparison, surely Creed II should be an easy knockout?

The screenwriting team hit fundamental problems with the characterisation of their lead. Creed showed Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) driven to prove that he could succeed on his own terms. Creed II forgets that core motivation and sees Donnie slip back into his father Apollo’s shadow, drawn into an inter-generational grudge match with Viktor Drago, son of his father’s killer, Ivan.

Director Steven Caple Jr. struggles to balance his gritty dramatic instincts with the series’ inherent melodrama, producing ludicrous moments like the desert training camp for boxers who “want to be reborn”. But equally, the dramatic weight of Donnie’s decision to step into the ring is never taken lightly. If nothing else, Creed II fully appreciates that boxing is a beautiful, ugly, thrilling, stupid sport and is quite happy to live within those contradictions.

Boxing’s primal nature is exploited to great effect, with some truly touching scenes between Johnson and Stallone as they clash over how Donnie’s need to fight is risking his life. Caple Jr. mostly handles these with an admirably light touch, letting the performances speak for themselves.

Caple Jr. understands Donnie’s anger well, brilliantly capturing the viscera and adrenaline of being in the ring. If he doesn’t attempt anything as bravura as Ryan Coogler’s single-take fight in Creed, he definitely knows how to make every punch land with enough force to move the audience.

Creed II had the potential to be something special, but too often slips into cliché, wasting the rare chemistry between Tessa Thompson, Jordan and Stallone. It might be full of contradictions, but Creed II is passionate and confident enough to win you over anyway, thanks to incredible performances from its lead trio.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris

DIRECTOR: Steven Caple Jr.

WRITERS: Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor (screenplay), Cheo Hodari Coker and Sascha Penn (story) Ryan Coogler (characters)

SYNOPSIS: Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, light heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago.

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