- The Magazine
Ryan Coogler’s Creed successfully revived the Rocky franchise by training its focus away from the Italian Stallion and onto the son of Heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, Rocky’s late best friend and greatest rival.
Apollo’s pugnacious progeny Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) arrived with built-in history, and followed a ready-made trajectory. He fought to accept and earn his father’s storied legacy, and he had Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner to help him do it.
In Creed II (★★), Adonis is recognized as a real contender — though he’s no less a hothead, a temper that Jordan relays with a mix of defensiveness and hunger. Adonis is still chasing a championship belt and struggling to fill the emotional void of paternal abandonment. But he’s found his woman, the aspiring neo-soul singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) he romanced in the previous movie.
Their story evolves here not through conflict with each other, but through how they handle their individual and mutual challenges operating as, more or less, a partnership of equals.
Jordan and Thompson continue to produce the endearing chemistry of a ride-or-die couple, but the movie, directed by Steven Caple, Jr., seems not really here for them. The film’s heart truly beats for the return of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian automaton who fatally knocked out Apollo Creed in Rocky IV.
Drago declared back in 1985 that he’d break Rocky too, but Rocky broke him. Desperate to restore glory to the family name, Drago has trained his son Viktor (beefy German-Romanian actor/model Florian Munteanu) how to box and how to recite his catchphrase. Creed II, co-written by Stallone, seems intent on recreating not just phrases but the entire formula of Rocky IV (which was written and directed by Stallone).
This time, however, old guns Rocky and Drago don’t tangle in the ring, but as rival trainers. Over a table at a restaurant, they trade icy stares and insults in a quiet standoff that Stallone and Lundgren turn into the film’s most electric scene outside of a boxing ring. The fights themselves sound bone-crushing, and highlight the speed of Adonis versus the might of Viktor, who’s hyped as “big, fast, strong, and unorthodox.”
The predictable plotting couldn’t care less about unorthodox, but the movie does offer one genuine surprise: the Drago family drama actually eclipses anything going on with the Creeds or Balboas, despite less screen time and Munteanu’s flat performance. Brigitte Nielsen, returning in a silent walk-on role as Drago’s estranged wife, might even steal the whole movie. And that’s a punch in the gut that Adonis definitely didn’t see coming.
Creed II is rated PG-13, and is now playing at area theaters. Visit fandango.com.
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