Creed 2 is most aided by the simple fact that boxing movies work with the most minimal of guidance, and this is no exception. Coogler set a tremendously high bar with his flashy one-shots and considerable flair. Caple works from this template and utilizes the expected beats and arcs to make a passable imitation, though it’s hard to imagine anyone preferring his outing to Coogler’s. That’s not to say that Creed 2 is lacking in its unique strengths. The script from Stallone, Juel Taylor, Sascha Penn, and Cheo Hodari Coker has twice as many writers as Creed, which was written by Coogler and longtime friend Aaron Covington, and more voices means less specificity, but the cast makes a meal from substandard ingredients.
This most applies, surprisingly, to Lundgren, an actor that Rocky IV asked little of, but Caple has the sense to turn him into the film’s heaviest emotional hitter. A film about a man whose father was killed in the ring has understanding and sympathy for the father’s killer, someone discarded by his state and his wife when both had no more use for him. Ivan’s been stewing in that resentment for years, and his outlet is a son who he’s turned into a monosyllabic pile of muscle and brute force. Viktor, as portrayed by a real-life boxer, is less of a character and more of a presence stalking into the ring with the weight of history behind every haymaker. Creed 2’s greatest asset is making its antagonists into more than muscley obstacles.
For an actor to outshine Jordan and Thompson is a major accomplishment, though it’s not like neither is doing their best. Thompson could easily slot into the nether regions of Adrian in her wet blanket phase, counseling her husband away from doing what we all know he’s going to do. She doesn’t do that, thankfully. It’s clear that she’s a person who exists in her own corner of this world and not an accessory for Adonis. Thompson’s Bianca is a partner to her husband, someone far more vulnerable and fragile than she is. The character of Adonis Creed is a structure-function pair with the actor portraying him, sculpted to embody Jordan’s strengths. No matter the low percentage of body fat carries, he’ll always have some of Wallace inside him, and Jordan keeps that part of himself close to the surface in a raw performance. Outbursts of pain or doubt revolve around his training implements, like crying with all his weight on a heavy bag or punching himself up off the canvas. Creed 2 knows how to mix physical and emotional intimacies, a distinction that Jordan consistently breaks down in his work.
It’s hard to imagine this, or frankly any sports movie, surpassing my love of Creed, but as a follow-up, Cagle doesn’t mess up the series’ best parts. If there are more of these, it seems that Stallone is taking a big step backwards. Jordan, Thompson, and Wood Harris in a larger role are more than capable of branching out on their own, though the real test will be if future Rocky villain retreads will be as successful as the Drago’s. If a character in the franchise needs a rehabilitation, though, it’s surely Tommy Gunn, who I assume has a frustrated nephew or something. B