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‘Creed II’ Tells a Familiar Tale, but Should Have gone for the Fresh One

November 26, 2018

Having recently re-watched the entire Rocky/Creed series prior to settling in for “Creed II,” I was ready to be blown away.

 

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed 2015’s “Creed” and just how much the original “Rocky” movies (minus “Rocky V”) meant to me in my younger years. 130 minutes later I emerged from the theater scratching my head and concerned over how indifferent I was to what I’d just seen.

 

Sadly, several days later that indifference has tilted slightly more toward dislike than anything else.

Sylvester Stallone stars as Rocky Balboa and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in “Creed II,” a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film. (Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Having reeled off several impressive victories since his loss to “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) finds himself back in the picture for a heavyweight championship bout.

 

Aside from his professional success, Adonis’ personal life is also in a great place – his relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is moving toward forever; his mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) has come around on the whole boxing thing; and, of course, his “unc” Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is still in his corner – both personally and professionally.

 

Adonis finally gets his shot at the title, and dismantles an aging champion – immediately raising questions about his ability and the path he walked to the title.

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe a juggernaut is starting to make noise. Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) – the man who killed his father, Apollo – is undefeated, hungry, and angry.

 

Trained by his father and fueled by hate (for what the world did to his father following his loss to Rocky), Viktor is a wrecking machine with his sights set on Drago-Creed 2.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed and Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago in CREED II, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film. (Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.) 

Relenting to the mind games of money-hungry promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), Adonis finds himself ill-prepared for the force he’s about to face and traveling down a similar path that led to his father’s death.

 

Generally, “Creed 2” follows a formula that should be familiar to “Rocky” fans – success, failure, personal turmoil, sage advice from a trusted mentor, redemption, and training montages for days.

 

But what's missing from the equation, and the thing that's made “Rocky” such an endearing series for more than 40 years, is emotion.

 

Whether it was the jubilation of Rocky telling Adrian he did it at the end of “II,” Paulie professing his love and admiration for Rocky prior to the Drago fight in “IV,” or even Mickey reaching out from beyond the grave to convince Rocky to get up one last time to finish off Tommy Gunn in “V,” emotion – even if overly-manipulated – has been a hallmark of the series.

 

This time, however, the story is almost completely devoid of emotion – at least in terms of Adonis, Bianca, and Rocky. Formulaic is fine, so long as there’s something that feels real there to go along with it. “Creed” had that, “Creed II” doesn’t.

 

No, the only real emotional and compelling aspect of “Creed II” is found in the Drago storyline. After his loss to Rocky, Ivan moved to Ukraine to raise his son to be the killing machine he was supposed to be. Rather than blame the people who wronged him in the fallout, he raised Viktor to believe it was Rocky’s fault, and that burden is now carried by him and Adonis.

Dolph Lundgren and Florian Munteanu star as Ivan and Viktor Drago and Sean Patrowich as Drago’s Cornerman in “Creed II,” a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film. (Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

 That’s the story that should’ve taken center stage – it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s giving it the unique spin that’s sorely lacking from the rest of the storylines.

 

As always, the boxing and training scenes are crisp and serve their purpose; Sly is Sly, Jordan is his formidable self, and Thompson matches them blow for blow; and Hornsby brings the slime ball grease needed to keep the wheels moving. But at the end of the day, there’s just nothing compelling about the characters, and good actors aren’t enough to will it into existence. Aside from the Dragos, there wasn’t anything that made me sit up and say “wow.”

 

Some will point to the absence of “Creed” director Ryan Coogler as the reason “Creed II” isn’t up to snuff, but it’s not. As talented of a storyteller as Coogler is, there’s only so much that can be done with a one-dimensional character like Adonis

 

The biggest problem with “Creed II” is that it isn’t “Rocky IV” or “Creed” or even “Rocky Balboa” – it just sort of exists in this boring, soulless ether that was previously reserved for “Rocky V.” While it’s nowhere near that bad, it’s much closer to that than it is to its direct predecessor.

 

★★ of ★★★★★