Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen, Milo Ventimiglia, Russell Hornsby
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Juel Taylor, based on a story by Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
Running Time: 130
Date: 11/20/2018

Creed II (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Drago Slayer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ryan Coogler's Creed (2015) was an incredible reboot of the old Rocky series, inventing fresh new characters and breathing new life into the old ones. It was a critically acclaimed success, so why stop there? Creed II is now the eighth film in the 40 year-old series, and it's a surprisingly worthy sequel. It's less personal, and basically consists of a sturdy mix of fight scenes and soap opera, but it wraps its bulging arms and soft heart around you in a comfortable, squeezing hug.

As the movie begins, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) wins the heavyweight championship with the help of trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), decides to marry Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and is astonished when his mother (Phylicia Rashad) notices that Bianca is pregnant. Things are great, but still, for Adonis something is missing. Cut to an aged, disgraced Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), now living in a steely gray Ukraine and raising his mountainous beast of a son, Viktor (Florian 'Big Nasty' Munteanu).

The Dragos head to America and issue a challenge to Adonis. Does he dare fight Viktor for the championship? (Rocky fans know the true weight of this, but newcomers will be treated to flashbacks to 1985's Rocky IV in which young Ivan Drago killed Adonis's father Apollo in the ring; Rocky himself feels guilty because he could have stopped the fight and didn't.) Adonis ponders for a while, and asks Rocky for help, but Rocky refuses. He won't go through that again. Even so, Adonis knows what he must do.

Since the fight comes at around 40 minutes into a 130-minute movie, it's pretty obvious what's going to happen. But, as with the other halfway decent Rocky sequels, Creed II still manages to spin an old yarn and make it seem fresh. Director Steven Caple Jr. takes over from Coogler (who remains as producer), and, while the movie plows right through any of the behind-the-scenes details of the world of heavyweight boxing, Caple nonetheless delivers brisk, thrilling boxing scenes and full-blooded moments of emotional drama, with much anguish and howling at the heavens. (Bianca's failing hearing adds to the soapy factor.)

The sequel continues one of the series' biggest themes, which is that the fighter who trains with the most honesty wins. The one with the most expensive, high-tech equipment is considered "soft," while the one that trains in the desert with old tires and sledgehammers is purer, and, therefore, stronger. Creed II doesn't shy away from the traditional training montages, mainly using new hip-hop music, though employing Bill Conti's chest-thumping theme when appropriate.

Creed II was a hit, and, weirdly, made even more money than Creed, which means that people somewhere are likely pondering yet another sequel. Yet I'm not sure whether these movies are now just pure nostalgia or if they're necessary for our times. Should they quit and wrap up the series while they're ahead, or plunge forward until the Creed equivalent of the laughable and despised Rocky V turns up? Who knows when it's okay to throw in the towel?

MGM and Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy. It features a fine video transfer, especially evident during the fight scenes, and excellent audio (including a Dolby Atmos mix). Extras include three short featurettes: "Fathers and Sons," "Casting Viktor Drago," and "The Women of Creed II," plus a longer one, "Rocky's Legacy" (15 minutes) and 10 minutes of deleted scenes.

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