Creed II review: A surprisingly poignant addition to the Rocky extended universe

The cinema is a place to escape to, just as Mia Farrow as Cecilia in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo escapes to the cinema to forget her problems at the end of the film. What is often forgotten, though, is that we often go to the cinema for reasons other than pure escapism; Creed II reminds us of those reasons. Directed beautifully by Steven Caple Jr. in the face of the looming challenge of taking over from director Ryan Coogler, who had directed and crafted the first Creed film to a sensational response, Caple Jr. is perfectly calm and in control when put into the ring for Creed II, landing some heavy punches. Similarly to the first film, Creed II incorporates events from the Rocky films. Playing off the previously established mythos, this time it reaches back specifically to Rocky IV. Michael B. Jordan’s character Adonis Creed is challenged to fight by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago, who, in Rocky IV, killed Adonis’ father Apollo, in the ring. The American patriotism is not as overtly present as it was in Rocky IV, yet it is undeniably still present as an undercurrent. In the beginning, the reliance on nostalgia seems contrived and dull. However, the film manages to arrange comfortably a mix of nostalgia and originality, while the plot goes in unexpected directions with the antagonist of the film, Viktor, receiving some character development rather than just being shoved in as an underdeveloped villain to further the story. Disappointingly, the opportunity is wasted; the character is corny and almost laughable at times. It had potential to be more. Yet, by the end, it does achieve a surprising poignance but not one that transcends the screen. 
“Caple Jr. is calm and in control when put into the ring for Creed II, landing some heavy punches”
Caple Jr. deftly manipulates emotions beats across the film, presenting the most tender iteration in the Rocky series. The film pauses and takes a breath, allowing for genuine emotional energy to build up before the fight. This is common in any boxing film or any sports drama, but what stands out about Caple Jr.’s direction is that many emotional beats do not come into fruition until after the fight, with some twists and turns that subvert expectations. The script does not always deliver such well-crafted moments; many scenes that aim for lofty seriousness produce sly giggles. This may correlate with Sylvester Stallone’s acting, which remains like his character; comical. It is Rocky after all, no matter how gritty and grounded this reinvention wants to be. In a nutshell: An emotional roller-coaster, but one that doesn’t leave you with the same high as Disneyland.