The Rocky franchise was reinvigorated back in 2015 with the release of Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Director Steven Caple Jr. has now taken on the mantle as we follow the journey of Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed. This sequel sees Ivan Drago, an old adversary of Rocky Balboa and the man who killed Apollo Creed in the ring resurface alongside his son, Viktor Drago.

Whilst Rocky IV, the film originally featuring Drago, is very much an America vs Russia film and fairly one dimensional and harder to connect to for non Americans, Creed II however is a far more interesting film. The film is about facing up to the past. In Creed we saw Adonis trying to distance himself from Apollo’s legacy, but now he is trying to reclaim his father’s legacy as well as shaping his own. For Drago it is about alleviating the shame of the loss his father suffered to Rocky in Russia, given that he lost everything after that defeat.

And whilst we get the boxing fights and montages that you would expect from a Rocky film what’s great is the characters, and their relationships. Adonis’ dynamic with Rocky is almost a father and child film, and that’s a big recurring theme throughout the film. We see their relationship tested through Adonis’ insistence on taking the fight, and Rocky’s reluctance to be involved due to his painful memories and guilt over the the original Apollo v Drago fight.

But what is great to see is that the relationship between Ivan and Viktor Drago is given plenty of time and exploration, something that you wouldn’t have really seen in the time of Rocky IV where Drago is just a one dimensional bad guy. Dolph Lundgren does a great job returning to the character, whilst Florian Munteanu is superb in the role of Viktor, bringing and rage and a pain to the role that may get lost against the other great performances in the film. But we also see Rocky struggle over his strained relationship with his own son, as well as Adonis becoming a father himself. It’s a theme that works its way into nearly every aspect of the film.

And it’s important that there are strong themes to allow us to see new sides of the characters, and for them to develop throughout the film because the story is nothing new. The Rocky films tend to have a formula, and Creed II hits just about every beat you’d expect it to. But the film overcomes that through the strength of the characters and the great performances of the actors.

Jordan is one of the finest actors of his generation, and pairing him up with Tessa Thompson is always going to give you great performances. They had brilliant chemistry in the first Creed, which was something of a breakout film for both of them, but now there is a great deal of expectation on both, and they absolutely bring it. Stallone however isn’t always the best actor, but in the Creed films he managed to bring something more than just the plucky underdog with a tonne of heart. He has such huge emotional depth to the elderly Rocky, this is the part he was born to play, and he keeps getting better in the role. Whilst he may not replicate his Oscar nomination from the first, he still gives a great performance.

Possibly the biggest unknown in the film though is director Steven Caple Jr. He’s never taken on a big budgeted film before, only some very small indies. And having to follow in the footsteps of Coogler is a big ask. Whilst the boxing action in Rocky has been the most realistic, Coogler brought it to life brilliantly and probably made one of the greatest boxing sequences in film history. Caple Jr. might not quite reach the same heights, but there’s no doubting the sterling job as director, and the boxing sequences are always electric. He also manages to give the more character driven moments a lot of heart and power, proving himself to be a fine director.

Whilst the Rocky films tailed off after the first Creed 2 manages to live up to its predecessor. There’s enough here to overcome the formulaic plot, particularly with such a wonderful array of acting talents. The character’s journeys and relationships are always front and centre, and the boxing action is every bit as entertaining as you would hope.