It’s nice to cheer for Michael B. Jordan again.
Earlier this year, the scrappy hero of 2015’s “Creed” became the highly boo-able bad guy in “Black Panther.” But the star has left super-villainy behind for the time being, and is back in the ring for “Creed II,” a worthy successor to the original “Rocky” spinoff.
If the sequel is a notch less than its astounding predecessor, that’s because — like Adonis Creed does during moments of doubt — the filmmakers are overcomplicating things.
The other dude this time around is Viktor Drago, son of Ivan (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Adonis’ dad, Apollo Creed, in the ring back in 1985’s “Rocky IV.” Adonis (Jordan) is now the World Heavyweight Champion, but despite his success, he feels a nagging void. When Viktor challenges him to a fight, Adonis sees avenging Dad’s death as a chance to fill it.
Viktor is no twig; he’s Mount Russian, a ferocious fighter who brutalizes opponents. So it’s going to take some pep talks from the now-Confucius-like Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and one hell of a training montage to win.
It’s a sensible, high-stakes setup for an Adonis Creed movie. But whereas the original writer-director Ryan Coogler kept his story mythically simple, and his filming style old-school, new director Steven Caple Jr. and screenwriters Stallone and Juel Taylor tack on too much extra plot.
When Ivan confronts Rocky at Adrian’s Restaurant, he tells him, “Because of you, I lost everything: Country. Respect. Wife.” Yes, the Dragos have been banished to Ukraine because they can’t step foot in Russia since the loss to Rocky, and Viktor’s mother left the family in shame. Mom (Brigitte Nielsen), and her platinum blond hair, will come back if he wins. But their motives and her part in this movie are silly.
Adonis’ relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), meanwhile, is still going strong. He’s planning to propose. An extraneous plot line involves Bianca, who’s become a relatively successful singer, starting to lose her hearing. Her artistic ambitions affect the story little.
But Thompson gives a performance just as sensitive and strong-willed as her last, and her chemistry with Jordan is even greater this time. Jordan continues to impress, navigating the emotional territory of the movie better than Stallone ever did. Once the gloves are on, though, Jordan’s a man-beast.
Not surprisingly, it’s Adonis and Viktor’s awesome, wince-worthy fights that give “Creed II” its punch.
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