Creed II shows the Rocky saga still has punch
Creed II is technically Rocky VIII and most franchises are out for the count by this point. (I’m looking at you, The Fate of the Furious and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip).
But these further adventures of the Rocky saga still have punch. Creed II continues the extended family drama of Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), scrappy son of the late former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who was coached into contender status in Ryan Coogler’s Creed by his dad’s old frenemy, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
That 2015 franchise extension was a satisfying affair, mainly due to the stellar acting of Jordan, a low-key dynamo who would build on his acclaim by playing a noble villain in this year’s Black Panther. Jordan also had surprisingly good chemistry with series patriarch Stallone, whose acting could charitably be described as ranging from wooden plank to petrified tree.
These qualities are still in evidence in Creed II, which is directed by series newcomer Steven Caple, Jr. and which doubles down on family connections, daddy issues and score-settling.
The stakes are established with a blessed minimum of tedious back story and grim foreshadowing, set to a portentous score (with occasional echoes of the Rocky refrain).
Donnie is at the top of his game, so much so that he’s ready to propose to his true love Bianca (Tessa Thompson), with old coach Rocky playing Casanova. “Turn off your brain and let your heart do the talking,” Rocky advises, and he would know.
Meanwhile, in Russia, evil Creed Sr. killer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is training his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to obtain for him the family redemption, otherwise known as revenge, that he’s been seeking for lo these many years, since the disgrace of Rocky IV — and I mean that in both pugilistic and cinematic terms.
Cue montages of ring ferocity followed by post-pummelling stock-taking, challenge-making and guilt-tripping.
Will someone make a heavily accented taunt to “break him” again?
Will Rocky agree to coach Donnie again, despite his serious doubts about the younger boxer’s chances? You might as well ask if there will be a Creed III (or a Rocky IX).
Rocky rightly describes himself as “a chunk of yesterday, trying to be today.”
His franchise, however, still manages to keep standing, if only because movie audiences have now invested decades in this ringside soap opera and they want to see where it goes, despite everything else. And, when all is said and done, the fight scenes are actually quite good.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren and Florian Munteanu. Written by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor. Directed by Steven Caple, Jr. Opens Wednesday at theatres everywhere. 117 minutes. 14A