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Creed II’ Respectably Goes The Distance

Sequel doesn’t quite match its predecessor

Photo credit: MGM/WB

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) gets ready for a fight with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner in "Creed II."

Companion viewing

"Rocky" (1976)

"Rocky IV" (1985)

"Black Panther" (2018)

Three years ago Ryan Coogler reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with "Creed." Now, he hands over the sequel to another young African-American director for "Creed 2."

Ryan Coogler’s "Creed" served up the perfect mix of indie drama and Hollywood crowd pleaser. It injected young blood into the aging franchise about a Philadelphia fighter known as The Italian Stallion but without losing any of the sentimental connections to the earlier films that spanned some four decades. Now “Creed II” hits theaters.

The sequel takes the logical next step in the story. "Creed" was about Apollo Creed's son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) reconnecting with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and putting some personal history to rest regarding his father and The Italian Stallion. So for the sequel, Adonis (or Donnie) decides to settle another personal score by fighting Viktor Drago (formidable real-life boxer Florian Munteanu) the son of Ivan Drago (great to see Dolph Lundgren back), the man who killed Apollo in the ring back in 1985's "Rocky IV."

Donnie has just won the title, asked his girlfriend Bianca (the lovely Tessa Thompson) to marry him, and is about to be a father when a promoter throws down the gauntlet and demands he fights Viktor Drago. This sets the mechanics of the sequel in motion as Rocky advises to avoid the fight because Donnie has everything to lose and Viktor has nothing to lose. This prompts a number of familiar tropes including an inevitable training montage and grueling final match. And at one point Donnie says, "It may not seem like it now, but this is more than just a fight."

Well, that’s actually what the "Rocky" films have always been about and "Creed II" provides that formula in muscular form. We get everything we expect in a Rocky film from brutal poundings in the ring to emotional melodrama outside. And when that Rocky theme plays in the final bout, it’s undeniably rousing.

Photo credit: MGM/WB

Actor Michel B. Jordan takes direction from Steven Caple, Jr. on the set of "Creed II."

Coogler has handed over the directing reins (but stays on as an executive producer) to Steven Caple Jr., thus allowing another young African-American director to get a foot in the door with a big Hollywood franchise at a major studio. Caple acquits himself well and delivers the formula with confidence. But the sequel can't deliver the same energetic freshness of "Creed," which was just a clever way to spin something we had grown so familiar with. "Creed II" is essentially a remake of "Rocky IV" and we can anticipate where it will go. But it's still a fun ride and Caple knows how to stage fights that might not be realistic but that are brutally effective in engaging the audience.

"Creed" delivered a knockout, but "Creed II" respectably goes the distance.

Three years ago, Ryan Coogler reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with "Creed." Now he hands over the sequel to another young African American director for "Creed 2."

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