Creed II Movie Review

When a little underdog of a movie named Rocky came out 42 years ago, a litany of Roman numeral titled sequels wasn’t foreseeable. Fantastic box office returns and a surprising Best Picture Oscar win changed that dynamic. 1979’s Rocky II was eagerly awaited and served as nothing much more than a retread of its predecessor. It was a dull copy at that where the main difference was its hero Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) besting rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

Creed came out in 2015 and it had underdog status itself. The concept of shifting the focus to Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) and his prowess in the ring seemed a little lame upon its announcement. However, like Rocky, the picture exceeded expectations with energetic direction from Ryan Coogler, fine work from Jordan, and an emotional storyline with Rocky’s cancer diagnosis. Stallone was even nominated again for an Academy Award.

Financial success has brought those Greek digits back. Creed II has a deeper well to drain from as far as plot compared to Rocky II because of the further follow-ups. Coogler isn’t behind the camera anymore as he took on the phenomenon that was Black Panther. Steven Caple Jr. takes over the reins while Stallone shares script credit (something he didn’t do three years ago).

1985’s Rocky IV is the entry that the second Creed taps for material. As you’ll recall, this was the saga where Balboa fought fierce Russian competitor Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) while seemingly punching out Communism too. Part four was cheesy, very much of its time, and highly enjoyable. It’s also the one where Drago delivered a fatal blow to Apollo after the energetic “Living in America” performance of James Brown.

Adonis gets an opportunity to avenge his father here. Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is an up-and-comer with his sights on the now heavyweight champion. His pops Ivan sees it as revenge after mother Russia shunned him following his loss to Balboa. The daddy issues don’t end there. Creed is now engaged to singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and she’s expecting. Rocky is estranged from his son as Adonis often fills that void.

The Italian Stallion isn’t thrilled with the prospect of Creed/Drago II, considering Apollo died in his arms. And we know that training montages will keep the drama unfolding. We don’t have a Xerox like situation with this sequel. It does follow the path of #4 in numerous ways, including a Soviet set main event.

Ivan Drago was a man of few words in ‘85 and he still is. His back story of abandonment from his wife (Brigitte Nielsen, who cameos) and countrymen has the potential to be compelling, but it’s given the short shrift. Jordan is still excellent in the title role, as is his chemistry with Thompson. Stallone’s character arch here is considerably less captivating than the last time around. This franchise is shifting away from him to Adonis and you feel it.

Like Creed, the ring action is more realistic than anything in the Rocky tales, where punches landed with a percentage of around 110%. Caple Jr. does decent work filming them, though not to the level of what Coogler accomplished.

Creed II is a superior direct sequel than Rocky II. The common thread is that neither are particularly memorable or necessary. To add to the clichés that permeate this series (sometimes in supreme guilty pleasure ways), it’s not a knockout. If you’re a true fan, though, it certainly won’t break you.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Creed II

Three years ago, the biggest surprise of Oscar night was Sylvester Stallone losing Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies. The legendary performer was nominated for his seventh portrayal of Rocky Balboa in Creed, nearly 40 years after Rocky won Best Picture.

Creed was an unexpected critical and box office smash with a knockout score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Oscar attention was reserved for Stallone only. Creed II opens on Wednesday and reviews are out. The tale of the tape indicates a mostly satisfying if predictable experience that serves as a follow-up to Rocky IV. The Tomato meter currently sits at 72%.

While its predecessor was heralded for Stallone’s work, early critical reaction here is more focused on Michael B. Jordan’s return in the title role. Yet any awards attention he receives will be for his supporting role in Black Panther, I suspect.

Bottom line: Creed II may please fans of the franchise. Like the Rocky sequels, don’t expect awards voters to punch ballots for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Creed II Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (11/20): On the eve of its premiere, I have increased my prediction for Creed II

When Creed debuted three Thanksgiving weekends ago, it did so in the manner of the character who began the franchise nearly four decades prior… as an underdog. The Rocky spinoff managed to majorly defy expectations with rave reviews and even Oscar chatter for costar Sylvester Stallone in Supporting Actor. That wave of buzz resulted in a $29 million Friday to Sunday start and $42 million total for the five-day holiday weekend. The eventual gross was $109 million.

Like Rocky before it, now come the sequels with Roman numerals as Creed II premieres next week. Michael B. Jordan is back along with Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, and Milo Ventimiglia (reprising his role as Balboa’s son from 2006’s Rocky Balboa). And that’s not the only blast from the past as Adonis Creed is fighting the son of Ivan Drago from 1985’s Rocky IV. That means Dolph Lundgren returns with a reported appearance from Brigitte Nielsen as well. Florian Munteanu is Drago’s spawn and other new cast members include Wood Harris and Russell Hornsby. Steven Caple, Jr. takes over directorial duties from Ryan Coogler, who moved onto a little something called Black Panther earlier this year (he does executive produce).

So how will the second round measure up? Jordan has certainly increased his visibility even more with his acclaimed villainous role in the aforementioned Panther. And part 4 of the Rocky series that this harkens back to is perhaps the most well-known sequel of the bunch.

That leads me to think II will open on an even keel with its predecessor. Yet I’m not seeing a compelling reason for it premiering much bigger. This might seem like a dull prediction, but I truly think the box office decision will match what came before.

Creed II opening weekend prediction: $31.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $45.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Ralph Breaks the Internet prediction, click here:

For my Robin Hood prediction, click here:

For my Green Book prediction, click here:

Creed Movie Review

I will sheepishly admit that when I first heard about the concept of Creed, there may have been some eye rolling involved. Rocky Balboa training the son of his one time foe and eventual friend Apollo Creed? It seemed like a desperate attempt to revitalize a franchise that I didn’t believe needed it. 2006’s Rocky Balboa had some nice moments, but itself seemed an often unnecessary entry for Sylvester Stallone to bring the Italian Stallion back to the screen. Sixteen years prior, Rocky V was and is correctly regarded as an embarrassment. Five years prior and 30 years ago is the last time we saw Apollo, lying on the mat after taking a fatal blow from Russian fighter Ivan Drago.

In Creed, we learn the late Apollo has a son from the result of an affair. Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is a product of the juvenile detention system in L.A. who can’t seem to stop fighting other kids. He soon learns his lineage from Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) and it affords him a comfortable life growing up. Donnie can’t stay away from the ring, however. This means meaningless bouts in Tijuana in a low key resume that may be due to the fact that he won’t make public that he’s the offspring of a boxing legend.

Donnie wants something more and it leads him to Philadelphia, in hopes of being trained by Stallone’s iconic Balboa. Just as in the 2006 predecessor, Rocky now leads a quiet life running his restaurant and spending much time in the cemetery carrying on conversations with his beloved late wife Adrian and now Uncle Paulie as well. He’s hesitant to train Donnie but his loyalty to Apollo takes precedence. Circumstances lead to a shot at the title, just like with young Rock nearly 40 years ago. And it forges a friendship between the pair that takes many dramatic turns and is truly quite touching.

The Philly pilgrimage gives Donnie a love interest with his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a singer who is gradually losing her hearing. Their well-written romance includes a moment where Donnie asks her what she’ll do when she’s no longer able to do what she loves. Bianca responds that she has to keep going until she can’t anymore. Of course, that metaphor applies to Donnie. And Rocky. And even Donnie’s opponent “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), an English brawler whose championship is about to surrendered to an upcoming prison sentence.

This brings us to Ryan Coogler, the writer (along with Aaron Covington) and director of Creed. Mr. Coogler gained acclaim for his debut pic Fruitvale Station which served as a breakout role for Jordan. Stallone has smartly handed over screenplay and directorial duties to this up and comer. Coogler imbues this series with a grittiness and emotional resonance that hasn’t been seen since the Oscar winning original. It allows Stallone to focus on his performance, which is quite something to behold. He permits us to see Rocky as in many ways a broken man who is given one last chance to do something he loves (just not in the ring). Jordan is very impressive as well and the whole idea of this concept being a gimmick is forgotten quickly. Much of this is due to the complexities and nuance that Jordan brings to the proceedings.

The boxing scenes are also extremely well constructed and easily the most realistic we’ve seen in the franchise. That may not be saying much, truth be told. When Balboa fought Donnie’s father’s executioner in Russia, the punch thrown to landed percentage was about 110%. Creed at least makes noble attempts to make the sport kind of look like it does.

Coogler has made a legitimate accomplishment here, managing to present a poignant partnership between Donnie and his legendary teacher. Many of us fondly recall Rocky running up those steps in the City of Brotherly Love. There’s a variation of that here and its metaphorical meaning may well bring tears to your eyes. Who would have thought we’d see that level of depth in this franchise? Kudos to Stallone for allowing a young and gifted filmmaker to enter the ring here and kudos to Coogler for giving Stallone this opportunity to take his most famous role in unforeseen and enriching directions.

***1/2 (out of four)