CREED II (2018)
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Kristina Aponte, Monica Haynes, Darin Ferraro, Andre Ward, Myles Humphus, Ivo Nandi, Roy Jones Jr., Kristoffe Brodeur, Elizabeth Gaynor, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran, Michael Buffer and Brigitte Nielsen.
Screenplay by Juel Taylor & Sylvester Stallone.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 117 minutes. Rated PG-13.
When I was a kid, Rocky was one of my favorite films. A few years later, when Rocky II came out, my friend and I took the train into the city to see it the first day it opened. Boy, were we disappointed. The sequel had lost the authenticity, the grit, the hunger, the reality, the hard-bitten cynicism, the sense of place. Instead, it added awkward dialogue, a bit of sappiness and a bunch of silly side plots – a marriage, a baby, a hugely opulent new home, even a robot.
Since then the Rocky series had its share of ups and downs, though none of the films has been nearly as good as the first. Still, Rocky III and Rocky Balboa were pretty good, but Rocky IV was just horrible. I hear that Rocky V is as bad or worse, though in fairness, it is the one film in the series I’ve never seen (probably because it was supposed to be so horrible), so I can’t verify its badness.
A few years ago, when the series was rebooted to the next generation, featuring Apollo Creed’s estranged son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) and a supporting turn by an AARP-aged Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), it was a bit of a shock to the system. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, it added an intelligence and a street-smartness to a series and some characters that had been growing stale for decades. Creed was as close as this series of series has come to the original.
And now, Creed II? Well, it’s kinda like Rocky II mashed up with Rocky IV. It’s not horrible, just horribly disappointing after Creed was so good. Part of the problem is that Coogler has moved on, finding further success with Black Panther and its upcoming sequel. So, instead, the writing (or at least co-writing) for Creed II returns to Stallone. Look, Stallone knows the character better than anyone, but he just isn’t a very good writer. In fact, he has only written one really good script in his career – the first Rocky. That was over 40 years and 23 scripts ago.
Because of that, Creed II picks up on lots of the same problems I listed for Rocky II. It has lost the authenticity, the grit, the hunger, the reality, the hard-bitten cynicism, the sense of place. Instead, it added awkward dialogue and a bit of sappiness. And all those silly side plots mentioned above are also revisited in Creed II – well, except for the robot.
Even worse, the storyline is an update of Rocky IV, returning to the feud between Rocky, Creed and Soviet superman Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Yeah, I get it, Russia is a safe haven for stereotypical bad guys once again (I’m surprised Putin didn’t hack Rocky’s gym). But, really, was the world waiting for a rematch of Creed vs. Drago, with the sons revisiting the sins of the fathers? Particularly since Adonis Creed didn’t even know his dad before he was killed in the ring with Ivan Drago when Adonis was a boy, and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) doesn’t appear to particularly like his father – and the feeling seems to be mutual.
At least, I suppose, Creed II saves Lundgren and Brigitte Nielsen from straight-to-video action films and reality TV. I’m not sure that is a good thing, though.
Creed II starts with Adonis winning the heavyweight championship. (Does anyone even pay attention to that anymore, with so many competing boxing championships out there? Besides, most of the boxing fans have moved on to mixed martial arts.) But, Adonis thinks he has reached the top. He’s the champ. He’s asked his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) to marry him, and she has agreed. They’re having a baby. He’s helped Rocky survive the cancer scare from the first Creed movie.
Then, from nowhere (well, from Russia), Ivan Drago and his son appear, challenging Adonis to a fight. Apparently, after Rocky beat Ivan in Rocky IV, he lost his fame, his stature, his wife… everything. And he has become determined that the only way to remain in the spotlight is to coach his son – a similarly silent but seemingly unbeatable mountain of a man – to beat Apollo Creed’s son. Rocky, who fought Drago before, wants no part of it. But Adonis feels he must fight the fight.
Honestly, everyone’s motivation for all this seems pretty sketchy. But you can say that for most of the things that happen in Creed II. Everyone is still being led by the nose by things that happened over 30 years ago. It feels like things happen as plot points more than as realistic life choices. And honestly, if you’re in the audience and can’t map out the whole arc of the story from the moment the Drago-Creed conflict starts, you just aren’t trying that hard.
Even the fight scenes – long the two series’ strong suits – feel a little over the top. Too many crunching bones, too much spraying blood, too many smash cuts to close ups of slow-motion boxing gloves smashing into faces.
Will Creed II be a big hit? Probably. Does it have some good points? Definitely. However, maybe they should finally retire the franchise. They won’t, because Stallone never gives up trying to get blood from a stone. (Currently in production – I kid you not – is Rambo 5.) But, someone really should try to get Stallone to consider letting Rocky – and Adonis – ride off into the sunset with a little grace.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 21, 2018.