PLOT Two young boxers, whose fathers once fought a fatal battle, get into the ring.
CAST Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
RATED PG-13 (boxing violence)
BOTTOM LINE A solid if not spectacular Round 8 in the “Rocky” story. Opens Wednesday, Nov. 21
History repeats itself with “Creed II,” the eighth chapter in the “Rocky” series. It isn't a copy of “Creed,” the high-energy hit from 2015, but an almost-remake of “Rocky IV,” from 1985. An unabashed Cold War throwback, “Creed II” may not be the freshest entry in the franchise, but it's a solid sports drama that makes the most of its soulful young star, Michael B. Jordan.
Like a long-running soap opera, the “Rocky” franchise is becoming a little inbred, plot-wise.
Just as heavyweight champ Adonis Creed (Jordan) is hitting his stride with his trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, 72. and finally letting his gray hairs show), he’s challenged by Russian boxer Viktor Drago (kickboxer Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu ). The whole world knows his name: He's the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Adonis' father in the ring in “Rocky IV.” Driven by emotion and pride, Adonis agrees to fight the much bigger and much stronger contender.
That mix of old stories and new characters worked wonderfully in the first “Creed,” and serves this movie well, too. It's great to see the grizzled, gristly Lundgren back on screen, and the movie gives Ivan an empathetic back story of national disgrace, exile and a wife (Brigitte Nielsen, also back!) who left him after his humiliating loss to Rocky Balboa. It makes sense that Ivan would raise a Rottweiler of a son to seek vengeance.
Truth be told, that's a clearer and more compelling story than Adonis' struggle to uphold his late father's legacy but also establish his own. “Creed II” ups the ante when Adonis' fiancee, the aspiring singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson, somewhat sidelined here), gives birth to their baby girl. Adonis now has more to lose. Still, isn't Rocky right when he says, “This isn't your fight?” Why should Adonis wage a proxy war for a father he never knew, and for Rocky, and for a Cold War that seems like ancient history to anyone under 35? Well, because we are here to see a rousing battle between a hero and a villain — and “Creed II” delivers.
Smoothly directed by Steven Caple, Jr. from a script by Stallone and Juel Taylor, “Creed II” borrows more than a few pages from “Rocky IV,” giving Adonis a flashy entrance worthy of his dad (Thompson's Bianca provides the music), recreating the patterns of the boxing matches and running Adonis through a low-tech, down-and-dirty training sequence. Through it all, Jordan holds the screen with his intensity and vulnerability — a winning one-two combination.