I'm convinced that Hollywood, for the past few years, has a plan in place to release at least one sequel and/or reboot a month. Luckily this month Creed II is the flavor of the month - the long-awaited follow-up to the surprisingly successful Creed. You already know Creed is a spinoff of the Rocky film series as it focuses on the personal and professional career of Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). Many also know Adonis is being trained by none other than Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who’s both Apollo’s friend and rival. What’s worth knowing is that Creed II is a sequel to both the 2015 film directed by Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler and 1985’s Stallone-directed Rocky IV.

Um, but how can a movie can follow up two separate films? It’s easy (and actually semi-brilliant) - Adonis has just captured the World Heavyweight Championship and he’s ready to write a new chapter in his life, one that involves his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Instead of carrying a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, Adonis instead places more pressure on himself since feels he still hasn’t emerged from his father’s looming shadow. That serves as motivation when Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) arrives to challenge Adonis. Viktor is the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), whom many remember as the Soviet boxer who killed daddy Creed when they fought over 30 years ago.

Since there is still lingering pain and dissention stemming from the Creed-Drago bout, it’s clear Adonis wants to accept Viktor’s challenge. But like his father, Viktor Drago is a physical prodigy and a monster in the ring. Viktor is strong enough and talented enough severely hurt (and even kill) Adonis, and his family and friends are worried. Rocky wants no part of the fight – meanwhile, Ivan sees this as the perfect opportunity for vengeance. It’s an interesting display of generational guilt (and grudges), thoroughly mixed with the notion that Adonis needs to move forward with his own life and career without having to worry about living up to his father’s legacy.

Hands down, Creed II is one of the most inspirational and inspiring films this year. Co-written by Stallone and Juel Taylor, Creed II again taps the nostalgia well by recycling old storylines. By taking a fresh approach, director Steven Caple Jr., Stallone and Taylor were able to create drama and present relatable consequences while providing both expected and unexpected closure for many of the film’s characters.

There are a few themes on display, the biggest one being the relationship between father and son. Adonis as a son extends to two people – Rocky and Apollo. Adonis, as we saw in Creed, was determined to make a name for himself, using the pseudonym Donnie Johnson. Despite finally accepting he’s a Creed (and subsequently fighting under his given name), Adonis still cannot create his own legacy. Simultaneously, Rocky proved to be more than a mentor to Adonis. They share a father-son dynamic in Creed II that has the Italian Stallion yearning to rekindle a relationship with his own son, Robert (played by Milo Ventimiglia in 2006’s Rocky Balboa).

More surprising (but just as emotional) is the relationship between Ivan and Viktor. Ivan’s obsession to avenge his loss to Rocky is the foundation for his seemingly emotionless relationship with Viktor. It stands to question – does Ivan really love his son or is Viktor just a chance at redemption? It’s one of Creed II’s more interesting storylines, although it’s not explored nearly enough. The fact that it’s being explored, even temporarily, makes this a more layered sequel than most.

Operating on a slightly bigger budget ($50 million, as opposed to Creed’s $35 million), Creed II is a confident winner that coasts on strong performances from Jordan, Thompson and Phylicia Rashad (who’s reprising her role are Mary Anne Creed, Adonis’ stepmother). What’s unexpected is the solid turn from Lundgren whose Ivan Drago showed he wasn't invincible in Rocky IV, now proves himself a human outside the ring. Creed II shines brightest, though, whenever Stallone’s on screen. Rocky is an icon and his "aw-shucks everyman with a heart of gold" persona is enough to make even the toughest of souls save a spot in their hearts for the aging former champion. From that perspective, Stallone’s Creed II performance proves his 2014 Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination wasn’t just a sentimental one.

With all of this in place Creed II is an exciting, touching and worthy sequel that’s charmingly predictable and powerful, but not as powerful as its predecessor.

4 stars out of 5

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