With 2015’s “Creed,” writer-director Ryan Coogler created a second-generation “Rocky” franchise by introducing Apollo Creed’s wannabe-champ son, Adonis. Coogler, of course, went on to other projects, helming a little something called “Black Panther.” For the sequel, he cedes to a new cornerman in the relatively unknown Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”), whose job is easy: Don’t mess things up.
Caple doesn’t always connect, but he does have Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan packing a one-two punch as Rocky Balboa and Adonis Creed. As before, the two actors share an easy chemistry and their scenes together are the film’s strongest, even when the melodrama sets in. When the script separates them, the movie suffers and you’re forced to slog through a bloated middle. Bring the smelling salts.
No cliché is below the belt in a script co-written by Caple and Stallone. It stumbles along with a predictable topdog-to-underdog plot, corny “you-got-this-babe” dialogue, and a shift in location from gritty Philly to sun-drenched L.A., where Adonis, aka “Donny,” reunites with his mother (Phylicia Rashad, terrific) and starts to train for his next big fight against the son (Florian Munteanu) of the boxer (Dolph Lundgren) who killed his father in “Rocky IV.” Yep, Ivan Drago is back and the Siberian Bull has a score to settle. His son, Viktor, played by a real-life Romanian boxer nicknamed “Big Nasty,” is charged with bringing glory back to Russian boxing and redeeming the family name. It’s interesting to note that Munteanu hardly has any dialogue beyond saying ,“I know.” He’s got muscles on top of muscles, and is present to grunt, sweat and knock guys out.
The Dragos set their sights on Adonis, the newly crowned heavyweight champ, who’s riding high on life. He’s got the belt, the girl (Tessa Thompson) and Rocky in his corner. Nothing can stop him. Right? Not so fast. He has a date with destiny in the form of Viktor’s right-hook. It’s the match the world wants to see, orchestrated by an opportunistic promoter (Russell Hornsby) and coached by Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris), the son of Apollo’s first trainer.
What transpires is a rehash of “Rocky IV,” executed without all the heart and humanity of Coogler’s movie. “Creed II” becomes immensely more interesting when the script recalls the earlier “Rocky” movies, such as Rocky reminiscing about proposing to Adrian. Caple certainly has nostalgia on his side. And you’d have to be made of stone not to feel something after that final bout between Creed and Drago. You can see it coming a mile away. Ultimately, “Creed II” lacks a knockout punch; more a split-decision.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris.
(PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality.)