Creed II (M, 130 mins) Directed by Steven Caple Jr ★★★ 1/2
It's no bad thing to be caught out with preconceptions. And this Rocky/Creed late-in-life flurry has been made of powder – not once or twice, but three times now.
When Rocky VI appeared in 2006, me, you and the rest of the fight were all assumed it would have been a tragedy, it was broken to the screen and a Golden Raspberry the season had to offer. A revolving plot around Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa coming out of retirement to take on a brash young champ sounded like the vanity project to end them all.
So color me surprised and quietly delighted when the film was wrapped up with more dignity, heart and where the effects of anyone could have reasonably expected. Plus, every film reviewer in the world has to be the first to call it "Aging Bull". So there's that.
And then again in 2016, when film-maker Ryan Coogler (who would go on to direct Black panther) came up with the idea of the son of deceased champ 'Apollo Creed (see Rocky IV) as a young fighter, approaching Balboa to be his trainer. Creed It shouldn't have been worked out as well, but Coogler, his star Michael B Jordan and the terrifying world-weary and soulful Stallone knocked it out of the park. Creed is one of my go-to-movies on long-haul flights and it still puts dust in my eye every time.
So now this. The probably inevitable sequel. Surely now there has been a stumble in Stallone's twilight career?
But no. Creed II, against all odds, really isn't too shabby at all.
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Michael B. Jordan is getting back in the ring to star as Adonis Johnson, AKA Creed, the next entry in the franchise and says his family find it "tough".
The film picks up where Creed left off. Adonis – Donnie – Still a haunted heavyweight champion, still haunted by the memory and a dose of impostor syndrome that plays as nicely authentic.
Wife Bianca wants to leave Philadelphia and relocate to LA, but Creed wants to stay close to his aging Balboa mentor. Out of Balboa's past comes the specter of Ivan Draco (Dolph Lundgren), the man who beat Apollo Creed to death in the ring in 1985, with a fresh challenger for the belt. Draco's own son Victor is a bull of a man, with exactly what sort of scooter and chip-on-the-shoulder I'm guessing you don't ever want to see the guy in the other corner of the ring.
Creed II really isn't much more than a remake of Rocky IV, complete with a self-knowing homage to that film's much-derided and parodied montage training.
But, new director Steven Caple Jr (Emmett Till) keeps the movie at a simmer in between the bouts and his cast is uniformly terrific.
Michael B Jordan is just about the most-watchable actor around right now and Tessa Thompson (Sorry To Bother You) is perfectly cast as Bianca. Wood Harris (he was Avon Barksdale in The wire) Finds good moments as a fight trainer and cornerman.
Stallone is said to be this last-ever appearance as Balboa and I hope that is true. But I'm more thankful than I ever could have imagined in 2006 that this last, near-trilogy of outings exists at all.