Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the champion and has everything going for him in his life with his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) by his side. When Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Donnie’s father in the ring, steps onto the scene, Donnie has the fight of his life on his hands.
There’s something about the films in this franchise that brings out performances one wouldn’t expect from its aging action stars. Stallone is still great here, like he often was throughout the series, but it’s Lundgren that impressed me this time. You don’t get to spend a lot of time with the Drago’s but it gives you enough to see what the relationship between this father and son is like. Almost naturally Viktor is full of hate thanks to the environment he grew up in but seeing how he and his father clash as Ivan pushes him in order to reclaim the family honour is interesting and the other side of the coin compared to Rocky and Donnie’s relationship.
The parallel of Rocky training in the snow for his fight against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV with Donnie training in the desert for his fight against Viktor Drago is exquisite. Sure, like Creed was a twist on the first Rocky, Creed II has similar beats to a few other Rocky films, but that doesn’t mean Creed II isn’t a really enjoyable time. The desert training montage is one of the series best and the music choices there, and throughout the film to be honest, are brilliant.
In Creed, Stallone was kind of the scene stealer but in Creed II it is most definitely Michael B. Jordan’s film. Donnie goes through a lot of physical and emotional turmoil and the way Jordan captures that, especially some of the internal battles he’s going through, is excellent. Donnie and Bianca’s relationship is wonderful and it’s so nice to see the romantic couple still together and stronger than ever in the sequel. Thompson and Jordan have great chemistry and adding a baby into their family dynamic adds a whole new set of responsibilities and pressures on Donnie’s shoulders.
Creed II is a worthy sequel as it has all the emotional beats you’d expect from this franchise plus the fights are exciting and here you really feel the punches. Thanks to the sound design, when there’s serious injuries like broken ribs you can hear them happen and the performances makes these fights feel a lot more real and dangerous. Creed II is a great continuation of the Rocky and Apollo legacy but I’m looking forward to seeing how Donnie and this franchise can step out of their shadow with Creed III. 4/5.
After Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a highly intimidating Soviet athlete, kills Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in an exhibition match, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) comes to the heart of Russia for revenge.
Even though Rocky’s driving force is the loss of his friend which is obviously a big deal, Rocky IV feels goofier than the previous films. It doesn’t really help that there’s a talking robot in the Balboa household which is probably the most 80s and out of place thing they could’ve added to this series.
Considering Rocky’s reaction and emotional fallout in losing Mickey (Burgess Meredith), his reaction to Creed’s death and his perceived role in it is a lot more muted. Creed’s death doesn’t have the big emotional impact that it should do and then the rest of the film never really recovers from that.
I love a good montage as much as anyone but in Rocky IV it feels like they didn’t have enough character work or a strong narrative to make a decent film and instead just filled up the runtime with montages. There are two training montages back-to-back and are purely split up by one scene of Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) having a conversation and then it’s back to the training montage. There’s also a montage to song “No Easy Way Out” by Robert Tepper while Rocky is driving and it’s all footage of the previous three films. Perhaps if I hadn’t watched these films in quick succession it wouldn’t have felt so redundant but even then though it begins with Rocky reminiscing about the evolution of his and Apollo’s relationship, it ends up being a highlights reel of everything that happened in the previous films. Not too sure what they were going for there.
The fights between Drago and Apollo, and Drago and Rocky are still pretty good. The framing of how much larger Lundgren is than both Weathers and Stallone is really good. It especially works with Stallone as he’s the leanest of the three and the reach of Lundgren’s arm is so big that it’s hard for Stallone to get close to him. The camerawork definitely paints the David vs Goliath picture well.
Overall, Rocky IV is a bit sillier than its predecessors and doesn’t really have the emotional weight it should have. The fights are still engaging though and Rocky and Adrian’s relationship is still one of my favourite things about this series and Paulie (Burt Young) is one of the worst. 3/5.