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"CREED II"
(2018) (Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: The boxing heavyweight champion of the world must contend with a new opponent who just so happens to be the son of the boxer who killed the champ's father in the ring long ago.
PLOT:
Things are going well for Adonis Johnson (MICHAEL B. JORDAN). Not only has he just become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world -- thanks in part to the work of his manager, former champion Rocky Balboa (SYLVESTER STALLONE) -- but he's also become engaged to his girlfriend, Bianca (TESSA THOMPSON), a singer who's succeeding in her career despite progressive hearing loss.

Things become complicated, however, when boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle (RUSSELL HORNSBY) comes up with a sensational match. And that would be pitting Adonis against up and coming Russian boxer Viktor Drago (FLORIAN MUNTEANU) whose father, Ivan (DOLPH LUNDGREN), killed Adonis' father in the ring decades ago before losing a match to Rocky.

Not wanting to be part of history possibly repeating itself -- what with Viktor being a huge, brutish fighter -- Rocky resigns as his manager and trainer, while Adonis' adoptive mother, Mary Anne (PHYLICIA RASHAD), isn't crazy about the idea either, what with having had to raise him on her own following her husband's death in the ring.

And with Bianca now pregnant, Mary Anne doesn't want her potentially facing the same sort of single-parent future. Nonetheless, Adonis agrees to fight Viktor but must contend -- like everyone else close to him -- with what happens during and after the bout.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Name just about any sort of film or the genre in which it falls and I'm fairly certain I can point out the storytelling formula that goes along with it. That's particularly true for sports movies since, well, they have to operate within the confines of whatever sport in which they exist. But even among those, few are as formulaic as boxing movies.

Either the protagonist is the hungry underdog who must overcome whatever his disadvantage might be to take on the champ, or the champ must contend with a young buck coming for his title. Along the way, some family and other personal issues are intermixed in with the training, an early bout or two, and, of course, the big final match.

Despite that formula that's pretty much set in stone, filmmakers keep pumping out such tales and audiences, for the most part, keep watching them. So, until the cycle ends up broken, expect lots of movie punches to be thrown and landed, with some occasionally decent to terrific films rising to the top of their weight class.

2015's "Creed" was one of them, featuring a fresh spin on things by director Ryan Coogler, a good performance from Michael B. Jordan as the title character, and an even better one from Sylvester Stallone not as the boxer, thank goodness, but instead as the young upstart's trainer and manager.

The "Rocky" spin-off meets sequel got lots of love from critics, drew in domestic audiences to the count of more than $100 million, and earned Stallone a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Considering all of that success, it's no surprise that the powers that be decided a sequel should be made and thus we now have the imaginatively titled "Creed II."

When we last saw Adonis Creed (Jordan) he lost his match, much like his mentor in the original "Rocky" film but, ditto, won because he made it there. Now, a number of years have passed and with his latest in-ring victory, he's now the world heavyweight champion. Not to mention newly engaged to his girlfriend (Tessa Thompson, sadly not as interesting this time around) and about to be a poppa for the first time, much to the delight of his mother (a returning Phylicia Rashad).

But with success come challenges, and a creative boxing promoter (Russell Hornsby) has come up with a doozy of a proposed fight. With Adonis' father (Carl Weathers) having been killed by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in "Rocky IV," what if their two sons would go toe-to-toe in what could amount to a familial rematch with the champ having the opportunity to avenge his dad's demise?

The expectant momma isn't sure that's a good idea, a sentiment shared by soon-to-be-grandma and Mr. Balboa, but the young fighter decides he's in. But Rocky knows he's doing it for the wrong reasons, bows out at his trainer/manager, and Adonis meets his match and then some in a brutal beat-down handed to him by The Incredible Hulk, uh, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

Like the last film, the boxing scenes here -- shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau under new helmer Steven Caple Jr.'s direction -- are uber realistic in their physicality and occasional brutality, and if you're like me, you'll likely wince with each punch to the face and blow to the ribs, kidneys and other body parts located in the torso area.

Adonis then loses his passion for the sport and everything seems ready to fall apart when Rocky steps in, gives his hound dog style sage advice, and the training begins for the big rematch, complete with a number of to-be-expected montages.

All of which means pretty much the entire thing plays out in an uber-predictable fashion. Thankfully, Caple Jr. and company don't feed the formula to us like baby food mush, and there's enough going on and mostly done well enough to keep viewers engaged. Like most any sequel, this follow-up isn't as good as the original, but it has enough fight left in it to go the distance and end up winning over the scoring judges. "Creed II" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 19, 2018 / Posted November 21, 2018


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