Creed II enters the ring swinging

There is always a level of wariness going into a sequel of a well-received film. 2015 brought us “Creed,” directed by Ryan Coogler, and it blew me away. But after learning that “Creed II” would be directed Steven Caple Jr., I had my doubts for the coming sequel. Thankfully, this latest entry into the long line of Rocky movies proves that it can stand on its own legs and deliver both an emotionally engaging and exhilarating experience.  

For the uninitiated, “Creed II” is technically the eighth installment of Rocky movies. Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan, claims the title of heavyweight champion of the world. Not long after, the son of his father’s killer enters the spotlight and issues a challenge to the young Creed. While it is entirely possible to enjoy the movie without any prior knowledge, it’s impossible to fully appreciate many of the films nostalgic and emotional beats in a vacuum. It often relies heavily on callbacks and characters from the past, which acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is entertaining and gratifying to see them; on the other hand, it can be distracting and confusing if you don’t know the history.

“Creed II” is equal parts an exhilarating sports film and an emotional journey. If you go into this movie expecting to be on the edge of your seat the entire time, then you will most likely be disappointed—but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with previous Rocky films: what makes these movies so great is that they take the time to build their characters and make them relatable, and “Creed II” is no exception. It is just as much an exploration of a young man’s character and overcoming his fears as it is a story of a boxer defending his title.

Going into “Creed II”, we already knew Michael B. Jordan could act, but this latest performance is on a whole new level. As I said, this movie spends a lot of time emotionally with the characters, and the entire cast does an excellent job realistically portraying many emotionally taxing experiences. Adonis’s girlfriend Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson) and of course Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) are the other two standouts performances in the film.

No movie franchise is more iconic for its training montages and boxing matches than Rocky, and “Creed II” continues that legacy effortlessly. While I won’t spoil the expected training montage, I will say when I walked out of the theater I was ready to hit the gym and take on the world. The actual boxing matches were exciting, despite lacking some of the creativity seen in Coogler’s “Creed” (Like the “one-take-fight”). With that said, in the final moments of the climactic match in “Creed II”, I was stunned by how emotionally conflicted I was cheering on Adonis while simultaneously feeling sympathy for the villain—extremely well done.

The biggest flaw of “Creed II” was a little bit of a pacing issue. As I mentioned previously, the film spends a lot of time with its characters, exploring their relationships with one another and their motivations to do what they do. It does wonders for your connection with the characters, but at the cost of a slower second act. Despite the pacing, I never lost interest in the drama, and it made the climactic matchup at the end of the film that much more sweet.

“Creed II” is a great film, and I would wholeheartedly recommend a watch. If you haven’t seen at the very least the original “Rocky” or the first “Creed”, do yourself a favor and watch those first though.

The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “Creed II” a 9/10.