I have mixed feelings about Creed II. In it's own right, it's not a bad film. But when looking at this film in the context of the Rocky film series, it didn't do it for me. First, the positives.
Casting and acting
Michael B. Jordan is a really good actor in general. He does a good job in Creed II as Adonis Creed. There are moments when he strongly reminds me of Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and I'm sure this is totally intentional. Apollo had a old school swagger that was iconic for his era and Carl Weathers displayed that swagger masterfully in Rocky 1-4 (also see: Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon as another example or even Carl Weathers in his bit part in episode 1 of The Mandalorian). Adonis has a bit of it in him except, modernized which obviously makes total sense due to the context. It's just that Michael B. Jordan captured that really well. It's an example to attention to detail that a some actors simply don't capture well. Tessa Thompson (Bianca) with Michael B. Jordan are a great on-screen pairing and a believable couple. I'm a bit biased though because I've always been a huge fan of strong displays of Black love. This liking is made even easier when Adonis Creed's mom is Phylicia Rashad. She's is a fantastic actress today as she was over 30 years ago on Cosby (the scene at the dining room table and the baby prediction is fantastic). She actually looks almost exactly the same too.
Silvester Stallone is still classic Stallone. You have to feel for Rocky considering his journey as he has truly become Mick at this point bringing the story full circle. Yes, although the film is called Creed, it still has the unmistakable mark of Rocky all over it. I've seen Dolph Lundgren in many other films over the years and he never really fit in any of them. But he does a good job in Creed II mainly because he's allowed to actually act a bit more with a more grounded role than in the other films I've seen him in over the last couple of years. It's not a major role but it is relevant. Context matters and seeing Florian Mountenau as the son of Ivan Drago is believable as well. That guy is a monster, but then again, so was his dad in Rocky IV.
Overall, the music was okay. Again I'm a bit biased in this regard going in the opposite direction because I fell out of love with hip hop years ago. When we live in an age when Kanye West is bragging about being the greatest artist ever, you know something is very wrong with hip hop in general. I did like Bianca's music though. It was giving me strong Rihanna vibes at times. The song she sang just before the final match was awesome and a great way for her to be by Adonis's side representing, as opposed to just sitting in the front row as he walked in. Speaking of which, I absolutely love the fact that Bianca actually has talent, dreams and goals of her own. Unlike the wives in Rocky 1-4 which seemed to just be the housewife of a fighter and that's it. Women with depth and grit are my weakness but I digress.
So, with all of these great things going for it, why is Creed II only 3* ? Glad you asked.
I still feel Creed II is a totally unnecessary sequel. Even though the film has its moments, I still felt that way when the credits rolled. Think about it. Apollo Creed died in the ring fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. There is absolutely no way Adonis was going to die in the ring fighting Viktor Drago. This makes the film incredibly predictable. Creed II is totally film making-by-numbers. Adonis wins the belt becoming champion, fights Viktor and gets his behind spanked but keeps the belt because Viktor is disqualified for a late hit ala Roy Jones Jr. With the help of Rocky, Adonis adopts a brutal training regiment, flies to Russia and beats Viktor Drago. The End. So much of Creed II is inspired by Rocky III and Rocky IV that it damages a lot of the positives. This leads to the other problems I have with Creed II. Lack of emotional impact and the pacing isn't good at all.
For example, in Rocky IV (one of the best in the series), the pacing and storytelling are excellent. When Apollo dies, the director takes time to show Rocky reflect on this with his night time drive in his car. Reminiscing about the past with Apollo, with "No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper playing in the scene. It was very powerful and very memorable even after 30 years. The training sequence in Siberia of all places is still one of the greatest training montages I've ever seen, ending with Rocky on a mountain top yelling Drago's name. THAT'S impact and clearly illustrates the iron will of the character. A man on a mission that won't be denied to avenge the death of his friend. There isn't anything in Creed II that has the same level of emotional impact and the pacing sucks. Example, Adonis trains in the desert to prepare for the rematch with Viktor but immediately cuts to him in Russia. No good establishing shot, no sequence to show Adonis, Bianca and Rocky flying to Russia or getting off the plane, not even a sequence or conversation between Adonis and Rocky about how he feels about going back to Russia all things considered. The edit to Russia is done in such an abrupt way that it's not initially clear if Bianca is even there with Adonis.
This and other abrupt edits makes Creed II feel, average, insignificant. A film just going through the motions trying to hurry up and get to its predictable conclusion. As good as some of the boxing is, it wasn't even clear which round both fights ended in. Even when Adonis wins the championship, it was treated as irrelevant by Adonis and the director. No fanfare, no celebration, no massive news coverage. Just, I have the belt, let's get a cheesesteak. I'm not joking, that actually happens. After Rocky fought Apollo in the original film, the media frenzy was nuts in the ring with Apollo saying "ain't gonna be no rematch" and Rocky saying "Don't want one." Then in the sequel which picks up literally right after the fight, the media frenzy continued and Rocky LOST.
Remember in Rocky II when Rocky finally beats Apollo? When Rocky, beaten to a pulp, holds up the belt and says "ADRIAN, WE DID IT!" while she was with their newborn son watching the fight on TV? It's one of the greatest endings in American cinematic history. When Adonis finally defeats Viktor Drago in Creed II, his version of that scene is so anti climatic that I didn't even care. "Let's go home" is what we get said in a whisper. At the end of Rocky IV, Rocky gives a great speech that was a powerful political statement about the US and Russia as global adversaries and the need to change. That was in 1985. In 2019, Creed II gives us, Let go home and get a cheesesteak. I'll stop there because this review is already long enough but Creed II feels like a film that wasted a lot of talent on a story line that should have focused on something new as opposed to retreading old ground.