“If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all of your life. It will plague you – until you get your revenge” – Muhammad Ali
Rocky IV was released in 1985. Then and now, trying to count the number of reviews that used “jingoistic” or jingoism” in describing the film would be an exercise in futility. Creed II picks up where that film and 2015’s Creed leave off. “Adonis Creed” (Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther) is bouncing back from his loss at the end of that film. He and “Bianca” (Tessa Thompson – Thor: Ragnarok) are still very much in love. His boxing career is going well and then he wins the title that both his father and “Rocky” (Sylvester Stallone – The Expendables 2) once held.
Meanwhile, after his loss to Rocky over three decades ago, “Ivan Drago” (Dolph Lungren) has been living a meager existence. Virtually exiled from Russia after Rocky knocked him out, he lives in Ukraine with his son “Viktor” (Florian Munteanu – in his feature film debut). Ivan’s wife “Ludmilla” (Brigitte Nielsen) apparently left for greener pastures after Ivan’s fall from favor.
Boxing promoter “Buddy Marcelle” (Russell Hornsby – Fences) sees great big dollar signs after watching Viktor fight in Ukraine and arranges to bring Viktor and Ivan to the U.S. The purpose of the trip is to manipulate Adonis to accept a challenge from Viktor. Ivan wants to pay Rocky back for the damage done to his live by destroying Rocky’s protégé.
There is a formula to this franchise. Romantic relationships that contain problems to be overcome. Sequences of training by the hero and his opponent that compare and starkly contrast them. Rocky went from hero to mentor brilliantly in the first Creed film and he continues that here. There are stirring echoes of both “Mickey” (Burgess Meredith) and “Duke” (Tony Burton) from their time as the trainer/mentor of Rocky himself; when Rocky talks to Adonis. But Rocky’s words and approach are modified. In Rocky III, Mickey tells Rocky not to fight “Clubber Lang” (Mr. T) by saying, “Because you can’t win, Rock! This guy will kill you to death inside of three rounds!” Rocky’s counsel to Adonis is more subtle and naturally, no more effective. After the first Creed vs Drago fight in this movie, redemption for both is sought in the rematch. Rocky is back in the corner of Adonis where he must find a way to deal with Viktor’s incredible strength and speed.
This is the eighth entry in this storied film franchise and while it is not “better” than the original or 2015’s Creed, the boxing sequences well might be the best thus far. Better still, the dialogue flows smoothly from a script penned by Stallone and Juel Taylor. Ryan Coogler’s superb directorial skills might have made this a better movie, but director Steven Caple Jr. delivers a well-aced, visually stunning film. The music has changed since the debut of the original but in both cases it is used to excellent effect.
Michael B. Jordan is a terrific actor who uses those talents to show us the roller-coaster ride of Adonis’ life. His chemistry with Tessa Thompson is strong, but it is the moments where he is all alone that he shines most brightly. It is easy for those who criticize these films as “formulaic” but there is nothing wrong with a formula that works as well as this one does.
More moments with Stallone on-screen would have been wonderful but tough choices clearly were required to trim this excellent picture down to its running time of 130 minutes. Can’t wait to watch it again!