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There’s a lot to like about Creed II

This image released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures shows Florian Munteanu , left, and Michael B. Jordan in a scene from "Creed II." AP

Creed II (Rated T)

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren

Genre: Sports drama

Dwight’s rating:


SPOILER ALERT!

A 42-year-old one:

If, for some bizarre reason, you’ve yet to watch “Rocky”, the 1976 Oscar winner for Best Picture, firstly, shame on you! And secondly, skip the next four paragraphs.

But here goes… boxer Rocky Balboa loses his epic match with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in that groundbreaking film.

It was a giant, refreshing surprise, in what was and still is a truly inspiring movie, both on and offscreen. Struggling, relatively unknown actor Sylvester Stallone wrote his own movie, insisted he play the lead, got the movie made on a tiny budget (just over $1 million in ‘76) and saw it become a massive box office hit (just about $225 million worldwide), earning 10 Oscar nominations and winning three.

Not impressed by those numbers? In 2018, those figures would mean “Rocky” was made with just over $4 million and grossed over $999 million! Almost $1 billion!)

It wasn’t until “Rocky II” when Rocky finally beat Creed, and it didn’t quite feel as special. There’s really nothing like being surprised!

Another great surprise came in 2015, when after about a million sequels and years in the crypt, the Rocky franchise was resuscitated and reinvigorated with “Creed”, a fantastic reboot of the whole series focusing on the scion of Apollo. It teamed the amazing Michael B. Jordan with Stallone as a much older and more introspective Rocky.

It was shockingly good, and surprisingly showed this series had strong enough legs to go another 12 rounds in the ring. And thus, it was no surprise that after the success of “Creed” there’d be a sequel.

Further mining the history of this film franchise, “Creed II” delves into what took place in “Rocky IV” back in 1985. That’s when Russian boxer Ivan Drago killed former U.S. champion Apollo Creed in a tragic match that stunned the world.

In the new film, against the wishes of trainer Rocky, Apollo’s son Adonis accepts a challenge from Drago’s son – another dangerous fighter. Under guidance from Rocky, Adonis trains for the showdown of his life – a date with destiny that soon becomes his obsession. Now, Adonis and Rocky must confront their shared legacy as the past comes back to haunt each man.

It’s interesting to note that while “Rocky IV” is not exactly well-regarded critically, it was the highest grossing in the film series. Perhaps Cold War hysteria in the mid-1980s and a USA vs. USSR storyline fueled interest in it.

In any event, seemingly everybody’s back for “Creed II”. From “Creed”, Stallone, Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad return, along with some folks from “Rocky IV”; someone managed to dig up Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren as Drago, and there’s even a cameo from Stallone’s ex-wife, Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, as Drago’s ice-cold wife.

The premise of “Creed II” is fascinating. Adonis is trying to avenge the death of his father. Drago is trying to reclaim the prestige his father lost when he was defeated by Rocky. Son vs. son. USA vs. Russia!

And there’s a lot to like about the movie. The pacing is notably less frenetic than “Creed”. It is at its strongest in its quiet moments: when Adonis and Bianca (Thompson) are talking about their future; when Adonis is with his mom (Rashad); Adonis talking with Rocky; Adonis arguing with Rocky.

The performances are as strong as ever, particularly Jordan’s, Thompson’s and especially the 72-year old Stallone’s, who once again steals the show with his newfound older-statesman sensitivity and humor.

But for the most part, “Creed II” will remain in the shadow of its predecessor. Its biggest problem is how generic and predictable it is.

Almost everything you think is going to happen (and hope will not, because that would be dull) happens.

Without a doubt, some major opportunities were lost. Yes, it’s called “Creed II”, but it seems there was so much potential with the Drago storyline. Drago’s son (Florian Munteanu) is as much of a victim and a tragic figure as Creed, and battling some serious demons. While it never exactly goes down, the silly good-guy-vs.-evil-robot-villain storylines that often plagued the “Rocky” sequels, the picture only scratches the surface of what could have been a far more intriguing story of two relatively good guys with something to prove. If HBO Sports can do it with its pre-fight documentaries, it wouldn’t have been too hard to pull it off here.

The other issue – and one that’s the closest thing to a flaw with “Creed” – centers around these fighting scenes. Boxing fans know heavyweight fighters these days do more hugging and dancing than actual boxing. But “Creed II” is nonstop pounding! Seemingly every punch connects brutally, resulting in the fighters beating each other to a pulp. This may be the stuff of boxing lovers’ dreams, but it’s so far from reality. It’s exacerbated with the giant explosion sounds every time the punch lands. Viewers are practically assaulted!

The screenplay was written by Stallone and Cheo Hadari Coker, who co-wrote “Notorious” about the late-rapper “The Notorious B.I.G.”, and is the creator, showrunner and writer for Netflix’s “Luke Cage”. It was directed by Steven Caple Jr.

This isn’t the same team from “Creed”. What or who’s missing?

Ryan Coogler! He directed and co-wrote the previous film. More than likely he was a little tied up this time around dealing with his blockbuster masterpiece “Black Panther” from earlier this year.

Would it have been better with the Coogler touch? Perhaps. But again, “Creed II” is not a bad film. It just works better as a family drama than a sports movie. And don’t expect any surprises!

Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email dwight@nasguard.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.

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