Creed II is a lot of fun but is absolutely not to be taken seriously
It feels like one half Shakespeare tragedy, one half bumper episode of a big soap opera.
Three years ago to the week, the first Creed movie was released and, much like the underdog traits of the series it was following on from, it came out from nowhere to become a big hit.
It quadrupled its budget at the box office, scored Stallone an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and racked up an impressive 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Since then, that movie's director Ryan Coogler went on to write and direct Black Panther, which meant he couldn't return to helm this sequel. Stallone almost returned to the director's chair, but once he finished his draft of the script, they decided that some new blood was needed.
Enter director Steven Caple Jnr., a relative unknown (just one small budget feature under his belt, much like Coogler when he took up Creed), who here is challenged with not just making a sequel to Creed, but also to Rocky IV.
The sins-of-our-fathers trope hits twice as hard this time around, as Ivan Drago's (Dolph Lundgren) has been training his son Viktor (the monstrous Florian Munteanu) for years. Following his in-the-ring killing of Apollo Creed, and then his subsequent loss to Rocky, Ivan was ex-communicated from Russia, but sees a fight between Viktor and Apollo's son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) as his way back into their good books.
How can Adonis turn down the opportunity to fight the son of the man who killed his father?
Then there is the fact that Adnois is about to become a father himself, as his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) becomes pregnant, and fears that their child may be born with the same degenerative hearing condition she possesses.
And if that wasn't enough, there is Rocky himself, who is having trouble getting in contact with his own son (Milo Ventimiglia, last seen in 2006's Rocky Balboa) after they fell out and neither of them wanted to be the one to make the first step towards mending their relationship.
So... there is A LOT going on here, not all of it good, but almost all of it fun.
Munteanu as the antagonist is an absolute beast, every time he gets into the ring you'll be pushed to the edge of your seat because your brain will be constantly telling you there is no way an opponent could survive fighting him.
He and Lundgren have a near-wordless but very intense and complicated relationship throughout, as Ivan's history of being essentially "created" by Russia as a fighting machine is now passed on to another generation.
The fights themselves are excellent and even decades later, Caple Jnr. manages to inject new life into boxing scenes that we've seen done to death. Plus the training montage can hold its head up high with some of the best of the series to date.
But then there's the soap opera-y stuff, with Rocky's personal arc and the majority of Bianca's screen-time feeling more like filler than killer. Not that Stallone and Thompson don't bring their A-game, but the script just didn't find enough for them to do.
There are some blink-and-you'll-miss-it nods to how the entire sport has basically been turned into a popularity contest, how the hype for a fight can often overshadow the fight itself. You just need to look at any UFC press conference with Conor McGregor to see how it has been turned into a circus, and this might have been something interesting that the movie could've gone a few layers deeper into, instead of just acknowledging it exists before quickly moving on.
And if you thought for one second that the movie might have anything to say about current U.S./Russia relations, think again.
Creed II doesn't seem to have any goals beyond being entertaining, which is perfectly fine, but there is a certain level of disappointment in knowing there was potentially so much more to say and do with this sequel, and that the movie almost seems to go out of its way to avoid it.
Creed II is released in Irish cinemas from Friday 30 November.
Clips via Warner Bros. UK