Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), newly-crowned light heavyweight champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is challenged by Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).
By the time 'Rocky IV' rolled around, the franchise was more or less spent. It had become a joke of itself, with Rocky literally having to take on the entire Soviet Union in order to fight something that could conceivably stand a chance against him. With Dolph Lundgren managing all of maybe 50 lines in the entire movie, he was a physical presence rather than an actual character with depth and emotion.
What Sylvester Stallone and Juel Stone's script from Cheo Hodari Coker's story has done is smartly stripped away the dated geopolitical angle and instead reframed the story as one about legacies passed down from fathers to sons. While that maybe a topic that's been covered in the first 'Creed', the subject is one that's rich enough here again from a different angle. Instead of it being about one person fighting against their father's accomplishments to prove themselves, 'Creed II' examines how being defined by a father's failures is just as bad.
In a lot of ways, that's one of the problems with casting an actual fighter instead of an actor in the role of Viktor Drago. Although Florian 'Big Nasty' Munteanu does have the same dominating physical presence as Dolph Lundgren had 30-odd years ago, he isn't given much of a chance - beyond maybe one scene with a somewhat distracting cameo attached - to define himself. It's up to Dolph Lundgren, who really does give the best performance of his career here, to do that for him. Maybe that's the point, that Viktor Drago doesn't have any personality or feelings of his own - and that he's merely just an implement of his father's bitter revenge than anything else.
Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, however, really do cement the movie as its emotional core. The chemistry and dynamic between them feels natural and lived-in, and while Sylvester Stallone's arc is decidedly underwritten, it feels like it's for the best. Jordan and Thompson's plot might feel like it's more closer to a soap opera than anything, but when you look at the whole pantheon of 'Rocky' as a whole, it's decidedly operatic with flourishes of soapiness along the way.
'Creed II' paints in broad strokes, and the enthusiasm and motivation with which the story pushes on really does hit you in the chest. What lets it down, sadly, is how flatly Steven Caple Jr. directs some of the sequences compared to the sweeping, cinematic moments designed by Ryan Coogler. There are no standout moments here like in the first one, and it decidedly lacks for flair and panache throughout. That said, Ludwig Goransson's soundtrack is every bit as grandiose as the first, and really elevates the inevitable training montage into a genuine emotional beat in the story than just a way of padding time.
Ultimately, what 'Creed II' does is round out the story of Adonis Creed and his father's legacy in a satisfying if obvious way. While it might feel like it's just too predictable for its own good, you're really setting yourself up to be disappointed if you thought it was going to end any other way.
Still, like Rocky Balboa himself, 'Creed II' grinds and lugs its way through to the familiar and predictable ending by winning you over in spite of your best efforts otherwise.