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Creed II Movie Review

Creed II (2018) movie poster Creed II

Theatrical Release: November 21, 2018 / Running Time: 128 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Caple Jr. / Writers: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone (screenplay); Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker (story); Ryan Coogler (characters)

Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Adonis "Donnie" Johnson/Creed), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago), Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu (Viktor Drago), Russell Hornsby (Buddy Marcelle), Wood Harris (Tony "Little Duke" Burton), Milo Ventomiglia (Robert Balboa), Robbie Johns (Logan Balboa), Andre Ward (Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler), Brigitte Nielsen (Ludmilla Drago), Patrice "Boogey" Harris (Padman), Jacob "Stitch" Duran (Stitch) / As Themselves: Michael Buffer, Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, Roy Jones Jr., Scott Van Pelt, Linda Cohn

 

The reviews and box office numbers for 2015's Creed were too good not to spawn a sequel. Three Thanksgivings later, here is Creed II. Whereas the previous installment had the feel of a reboot, as Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa passed the reins over to a new generation,
namely Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Balboa's late rival and friend Apollo Creed, this one is a straight up sequel. If Creed borrowed certain rhythms from the original Rocky, 1976's Best Picture Oscar winner, Creed II takes its cues from the series' top-grossing entry, the strangely iconic Rocky IV that resonated at the peak of 1980s Cold War fiction.

The first figures we see here are Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian who literally killed Apollo in the ring, and his son Viktor (Romanian boxer Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu). If Ivan at 60 no longer seems like the superhuman he did in 1985, his even taller and more muscular son kind of does. Naturally, Adonis is going to have to fight Viktor, not only to defend his championship belt but to provide some kind of closure to what went down three decades ago.

Is it a spoiler to reveal that there are two fights between Adonis and Viktor, one in the middle and one at the end of the film? I suppose the outcomes should remain secret, but like any good boxing movie, including the two best in this series (Rocky and Creed), it's not really about winning or losing. It's about pushing yourself and giving it your all.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) make an inevitable return to the boxing ring in "Creed II."

Outside of those two fights, life continues for Donnie and his musician girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). There is a nervous proposal and a pregnancy, the latter of which finds the parents worrying that their daughter might inherit Bianca's hearing problems.

Stallone, whose loss for Best Supporting Actor to Bridge of Spies' Mark Rylance was one of the bigger surprises of the 2016 Oscars, takes a screenplay credit here. He did not on the first Creed, which was written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, but of course Stallone did pen all six of the Rocky movies that preceded that. Stallone, co-writer Juel Taylor, and the two TV-seasoned men credited here with story do not serve up a wealth of ideas or new themes. Instead, they all just continue to invest in these characters in a thoughtful, sensible manner.

Something may be lost in having Coogler, an executive producer only this time, bow out of returning to write and direct, but not as much as you might fear. While Coogler was busy enjoying the response to the #1 film of the year by domestic box office (Marvel's Black Panther), Steven Caple Jr. was doing just fine steering this ship. Caple's biggest film by far to date is very consistent with Coogler's predecessor visually, narratively, and dramatically. It seems easy to deduce that Coogler has much bigger opportunities now than returning to make these sequels and likewise Caple's work here should open doors for him.

The only criticism you might level at Creed II is that it doesn't really take any chances or tread any new ground. Its biggest gamble is potentially being remembered as "the one where Creed trains in the desert." It simply continues the story in a polished and satisfactory manner, without the thrill of reviving a decaying old franchise. To be sure, many of Rocky's sequels were pretty bad, especially the dreadful Rocky V. This is better than them and probably better than it needed to be since people who liked the first Creed would have come back for seconds either way.

"Rocky IV" Russian opponent Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is back and training his intimidating son Viktor (Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu) to dethrone Adonis in "Creed II."

Though it tries, Creed II certainly doesn't have the big emotional impact that its immediate predecessor did. Rocky himself gets a reduced role and the storyline involving his estranged son doesn't pop. In fact, you may be confused because the previous film seemed to suggest, with a solemn glimpse at an old photo, that the character, like Stallone's real son Sage, who played him in Rocky V, had passed away. (Turns out "moved to a place called Vancouver" is not a euphemism.)

Stallone's turn gave Creed its only Oscar nomination and just the franchise's second nomination since the original film's ten nominations (three of them wins), the other being a Best Original Song nod for Rocky III's "Eye of the Tiger." Creed II won't draw any nominations, but if the reviews are kind and attendance is good,
then it can be deemed a success and that would be no small thing to MGM, who takes over distribution from Warner Bros. having gotten back into the game after an eight-year hiatus brought on by bankruptcy. The historically more stable Warner (and its subsidiary New Line) still have a stake in production and foreign distribution. I'm guessing they were all wise enough to keep the budget in line with the previous installment's reasonable $35 million price tag, which more or less ensures profitability.

While Carl Weathers has to settle for heroic likenesses of himself on display at a Los Angeles gym where Donnie trains and Apollo's tombstone, one other franchise alumnus gets a chance to reprise. Brigitte Nielsen, who played Ivan's wife Ludmilla in Rocky IV, has a minor but pivotal role here which motivates two generations of Drago men.

Related Reviews:
Creed Rocky
Michael B. Jordan: Black Panther Fruitvale Station | Sylvester Stallone: Grudge Match Reach Me
Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok | Russell Hornsby: The Hate U Give | Wood Harris: Remember the Titans
Dolph Lundgren: The Package Ambushed
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Boxing: Chuck The Fighter Southpaw Hands of Stone Bleed for This

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Reviewed November 20, 2018.



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