“Creed” was a revelation. “Creed II” is … a sequel.
That’s not the worst thing you could say about a “Rocky” film. Remember “Rocky V?” No? That’s for the best.
Still, 2015’s “Creed” did more than bring the Italian Stallion back, albeit in a supporting role. It justified the return of the iconic character, broadening the story’s scope and proving star Michael B. Jordan belongs in today’s acting elite.
The sequel gives us more of the same but less, at least from a narrative perspective. You’ll cheer during the third act, all right, but bemoan what might have been.
The warning signs with “Creed II” flash from the opening bell. We meet young Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), a mountain of a man along with his father, Ivan.
Yeah, Dolph Lundgren’s character from “Rocky IV.”
The reveal should jolt every nostalgia circuit in our brains. Or, at the very least, quicken our pulses. The moment plays out like anything you might see from a handsome, if forgettable, Netflix original.
No artistry. No fanfare of any sort.
Director Steven Caple, Jr. (“The Land”) takes over for the great Ryan Coogler, and the switch is noticeable from the start. The sequel at least jumps into the story with both feet.
FAST FACT: Boxer Ken Norton originally signed up to play Apollo Creed in “Rocky,” but left the project at the last minute to shoot ABC’s “Superstars” series.
The young Drago wants to fight the new heavyweight champ, Adonis Creed (Jordan). Why? It makes sense from a marketing point of view. And since Ivan Drago’s defeat at the hands of Rocky Balboa 30 years ago crushed his life and career, it’s time for the son to enact some vengeance.
So why should Adonis fight Viktor Drago?
The film bobs and weaves around the answer to that very important question. Yes, Ivan Drago killed his father in the ring. The movie still can’t decide on Adonis’ motivation. Equally murky? Why Stallone’s Rocky doesn’t want the fight to happen, either.
“You know, maybe this isn’t the best time for you, what I’m sayin’ is, you need to look at yourself in the mirror and see what you see, knowwhatImean…”
That Rocky word salad is as endearing as ever, and Stallone once again finds poignant layers in the Pride of Philadelphia.
It still doesn’t help enough.
You Must Watch Michael B. Jordan Recap All the Rocky Movies Before Seeing Creed II https://t.co/IEV0LcIgxo
— People (@people) November 21, 2018
The film’s first half is full of these hedges, none of which spark great drama. The inevitable sequelitis kicks in early, too.
You can predict nearly every moment in “Creed II,” from the big news Adonis’ new bride Bianca (Tessa Thompson, excellent) shares mid-film to a health reveal meant to goose our emotions.
The sequel’s biggest sin is squandering the Russian subplot. The Drago father/son dynamic is spelled out in crayon, as are their combined back stories. Ivan and Rocky meet for the first time in 30 years, a moment movie fans didn’t realize they needed to see until now.
The sequence wraps with a cutesy line from the winner fighter, nothing more.
Caple Jr. does find new notes to play during the obligatory training sequences, the appetizer to any Rocky film’s main course -- the title fight.
Oh, is that a spoiler? Well, welcome to Planet Earth.
The film’s climax follows the Rocky boxing formula to the letter. In real life, heavyweight fighters can’t withstand a series of clean, clear head blows. Here? The boxers endure dozens without falling.
It’s silly to expect a more grounded brand of boxing in a “Rocky” film at this point.
Besides, you know “Creed II” is holding back on that “Rocky” theme song, waiting for just the right moment to hit, “Play.”
“Creed II” nails it, and it’s almost worth the price of your ticket stub alone.
HiT or Miss: “Creed II” is a solid, unspectacular sequel that squanders the potential stirred by the 2015 reboot.