Ludwig Göransson’s 2018 has been the kind of year about which most young composers can only dream. Beginning with Black Panther, he closes out the year with Creed II, the sequel to his breakout score. His stunning combination of Bill Conti’s original Rocky work and new themes in that same sound is an impressive act to follow, but Göransson has delivered an even better work this time around, bookending the year with two score-of-the-year contenders.
Anchoring Creed II is the theme for the titular protagonist Adonis Creed. First heard in the action-packed “Wheeler Fight,” it remains a memorable callback to the style of 70’s sport scores. Unsurprisingly, Gorannsson also provides the antagonist with his own theme heard immediately on album in “Drago.” This son of the famous Russian villain from Rocky IV is not represented by stereotypical grandiose Russia tones, but a rather contemplative rising-falling melody.
The thematic usage on display here is perhaps the most impressive of the entire Rocky franchise, and will prove especially rewarding to those who found the first score lacking in this regard. The subtle usage of Drago’s theme in “The Public Challlenge,” heard halfway through the track on brass before strings take it over, is just one such example of the score’s storytelling ambition. The overlapping of both themes during the first half of “Balanced Breakfast” is another highlight if only because so few modern blockbuster scores attempt such interplay.
After that track comes the first instance on album of Göransson incorporating hip-hop vocals to score tracks. Rapping over beats and orchestra, Vince Staples lends the cue an attitude to better reflect that of our titular hero. While straight orchestra worked for Rocky, Göransson’s usage of beats and vocals in this way is a reflection of the kind of music we see Adonis listening to on screen. The execution is key here, and the composer, who also works as a pop/rap music producer, excels, always keeping the orchestra present while the vocals and beats smoothly transition in and out.
Even among these more modern elements, Göransson’s orchestral writing truly shines. This is not another case of an under-composed score relying on simple beats or tricks to ramp up excitement, as the aforementioned “Wheeler Fight” proves. The sound is a perfect combination of Conti’s brass-y emotive style and the modern blockbuster conventions. No place is Göransson’s skill more apparent than “Runnin,” this entry’s centerpiece training track. More modern string writing give way to powerful brass and the a swirling rendition of the main theme.
As we cut to Drago’s training, we hear the most forceful performance yet of his theme, backed up by Russian-esque choir and pounding drums. A more graceful performance of the main theme then cuts to A$AP Rocky rapping over racing strings, beats, and a building choral aspect. It all comes to a glorious conclusion as the choir sings parts of the classic “Gonna Fly Now” before orchestra lets out again with the main theme amidst shrieks of “Fight!” Film music doesn’t get much better.
The finale is scored with equally impressive music, maintaining the thematic interplay while also not being afraid to digress for a few moments of gravity or emotion when needed. Bringing in the classic Rocky themes for “It’s Your Time” to play against the new identities over modern beats provides the perfect underscore for the final fight, strengthening both the Creed series’ themes while also firmly establishing the score within its overarching franchise.
If the album’s final track, “Family Visit,” is a bit too meandering and low-key to feel like an effective end, but it hardly detracts from the strength of Göransson’s efforts overall. Creed II is one of the best scores of the year, full of the emotion and intelligence that score fans crave from blockbuster films but rarely receive. The album is weighed down only slightly by the lack of resolution in that final cue and the inclusion of the grating “Time Tick” sung by Tessa Thompson, whose character in the film is a recording artist.
Göransson’s score to Creed II is a testament to both his own compositional prowess and to the Rocky franchise, which after 42 years is still proving to be fertile inspiration for its composers.
Creed II: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is now available from Sony Music.