×

Film Review: ‘Creed II’

Michael B. Jordan's ferocious performance anchors a sequel that's rousing and effective but lacks the powerful punch of the first 'Creed.'

Director:
Steven Caple Jr.
With:
Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Brigitte Nielsen, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Andre Ward, Milo Ventimiglia.
Release Date:
Nov 21, 2018

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6343314/

In “Creed II,” Michael B. Jordan, all hardened fury and wounded tenderness, reprises the role of Adonis Creed, the ardent bruiser who’s got boxing in his blood as much as his father, Apollo Creed, ever did. The movie is a sequel to “Creed,” Ryan Coogler’s astonishingly vibrant and soulful 2015 spinoff/reboot. But you could also call it the eighth “Rocky” film. And maybe because Coogler opted out of this one (he serves as an executive producer, but it was directed by the relative newcomer Steven Caple Jr.), and the script was co-written by Sylvester Stallone (with Juel Taylor), “Creed II,” far more than the first film, feels like it’s drawing heavily on a 40-year-old franchise.

Taken on its own terms, the movie is a rousing and effective sequel, with a couple of surprise punches and, mostly, a lot of smooth feints and jabs you’ve seen before. But if you compare it to, say, the second and third “Rocky” sequels, with their larger-than-life villains (Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago), what’s noticeable about “Creed II” is that it never quite comes up with a new character or situation that attains an iconic status all its own.

The movie opens with Jordan’s Creed pounding his way toward the knockout punch that lands him the title of world heavyweight champion. Grooving on his new king-of-the-world image, he then works up the courage to pop the question to the spunky and supportive Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose career as a pop star is on the rise. (As it turns out, he’s in for a bigger jolt than the fact that she says yes.) And though Creed has defeated all comers, this proves to be child’s play compared to the nemesis who now rears his head.

That would be Viktor Drago — yes, the son of Ivan Drago. Dolph Lundgren, looking more creased and less towering than before, his blockish hair graying but intact, is back as Ivan, who lost everything (his country, his honor, Brigitte Nielsen) after his defeat by Rocky. He’s got a lot to avenge, and plans to do it all through his son, who has grown up as a scowling-eyed scavenger in Ukraine. Florian Munteanu, the Romanian-born boxer, actor, and fitness star who plays Viktor, has a soft round face set off by a shaved head and a fuzzy black round beard, and his eyes are tiny burning coals of hate. Viktor’s life has been a raw deal, and he too wants revenge. Plus, the Dragos know that Creed’s motivation to fight will prove to be his chief vulnerability: Thirty years before (in “Rocky IV”), Ivan didn’t just defeat Creed’s father, Apollo — he hit him so hard that he killed him in the ring. The prospect of a score-settling bout between their two sons sounds like a match made in cable-sports heaven: payback vs. payback.

Jordan, a fantastic actor, plays all of this with a cutthroat cool laced with existential anxiety. When Creed says “I’m dangerous,” he means it, but Jordan delivers that line with a street-cred hubris that’s his way of showing us Creed’s need to prove himself. Viktor, his boxing antagonist, is built like a wall of muscle and punches like a lethal machine. He’s a formidable foe, though when he shows up in the ring opposite Creed, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he lacks that special annihilating X Factor that made his father a character you can still draw upon 33 years after the movie in which he first appeared. “Rocky IV,” of course, tapped into the still-thriving tensions of the Cold War, but in “Creed II” all the legacy-and-destiny stuff feeds, at times almost parasitically, on the earlier film’s glory.

Three years ago, the first “Creed” was about re-establishing how deep our connection to Stallone’s Rocky really was, and it was about Jordan lighting a fire of desperate bravado in Adonis Creed that burned the way Stallone’s did back in the ’70s and early ’80s. It was about the catharsis of creating an African-American Rocky. “Creed II” carries you along, but it’s less exhilarating and more programmatic. Stallone, in his black-leather jacket, gray T-shirt, and rumpled pork-pie hat, reprises his artfully understated Rocky-as-senior-citizen performance from “Creed” — the grumble perfectly tuned, the older-and-wiser twinkle more powerful than his words. Rocky warns Creed not to take the Drago fight, and refuses to train him for it, and the fact that the bout takes place just halfway through the movie is enough to let you know that it’s probably going to result in something other than Creed’s glorious victory.

“Creed II” is really a movie about faith. It’s about how Adonis Creed loses his, wallows in the wilderness, then fights to get it back. Instead of training in a meat locker, he now gets taken by Rocky out to the desert to a place that looks like the Mad Max Gym. He’s got to go to hell and back to triumph. “Creed II” has been made with heart and skill, and Jordan invests each moment with such fierce conviction that he makes it all seem like it matters. Even if it all mattered a notable notch more in “Creed.”

RELATED VIDEO: 

Film Review: 'Creed II'

Reviewed at AMC Lincoln Square, New York, Nov. 15, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 130 MIN.

Production: An MGM, Warner Bros. release of an MGM Studios, Warner Bros. production, in association with New Line Cinema. Producers: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler, Udi Nedivi. Executive producers: Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Guy Reidel.

Crew: Director: Steven Caple Jr. Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone, Juel Taylor. Camera (color, widescreen): Kramer Morgenthau. Editors: Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, Paul Harb. Music: Ludwig Göransson.

With: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Brigitte Nielsen, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Andre Ward, Milo Ventimiglia.

More Film

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose” (pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. More Reviews Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high-profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a lineup that, as usual, features an eclectic grab-bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April 13 and [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content