Sometimes, a legacy is a cage. When we allow our failures, our fears, and our shortcomings to define us, they become links in a chain that tethers us to the past, trapping us in a prison of pain and self-pity. And if that burden grows too heavy, it will eventually fall onto our children’s shoulders.
Creed II is as much as sequel to Rocky IV as it is a followup to Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly poignant revival of the series, and it explores the very real consequences of that infamously over-the-top film’s climactic bout. Ivan Drago’s return is far from triumphant: he is a hollow, broken outcast, rejected by his country (and, more importantly, by his wife) in the wake of his humiliating defeat, so thoroughly consumed by rage and hatred that he has sculpted his son into little more than a machine—an avatar that exists for the sole purpose of exacting his revenge. To that end, the younger Drago challenges Adonis Creed—the son of the man that his father murdered in the ring—to a sort of rematch-by-proxy, partially to salvage his family’s shattered reputation, and partially to strike back at Rocky Balboa.
For his part, the Italian Stallion wants nothing to do with the spectacle: he still blames himself for his friend’s death, and the injuries he suffered during his showdown with the gargantuan Russian never completely healed. Unfortunately, his hotheaded protege is too thirsty for some retribution of his own to heed his advice. But Donnie finds his resolve shaken after discovering that his wife is pregnant—after all, it was his father’s pride and hubris that left him an orphaned, forgotten bastard in the first place. Thus, as the fight rapidly approaches, our hero must confront the possibility that he’ll end up sharing Apollo’s tragic fate… and ask himself what kind of future he’s building for his daughter.
The plot occasionally veers dangerously close to soap opera territory (the obligatory rift that forms between Adonis and Rocky feels particularly contrived), and Coogler’s stylish direction is sorely missed (although Steven Caple Jr. is certainly talented, his workmanlike approach to the material lacks the visual flair that made the previous installment so appealing), but overall, Creed II is a worthy addition to this beloved and enduring franchise, thanks to its thematic clarity and compelling characterization.