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Still Fighting: Creed II Proves That Its Franchise Remains a Contender

This slick crowd-pleaser demonstrates that even after eight films spanning more than four decades, Sylvester Stallone still knows how to push the right buttons.

Although it’s a lightweight compared to its predecessor, Creed II still packs a punch both inside and outside the ring.

Such obvious boxing metaphors are appropriate considering the utterly predictable nature of this sequel. Despite that, this slick crowd-pleaser demonstrates that even after eight films spanning more than four decades in his Rocky franchise, Sylvester Stallone still knows how to push the right buttons.

The story is basically both a follow-up to the spinoff Creed and a remake of Rocky IV, except without the Cold War backdrop. But we can easily muster enough Russian distaste to jeer the vengeful return of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Soviet nemesis knocked out by heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa (Stallone) more than 30 years ago.

Drago, however, is best known for killing Apollo Creed in the ring. And now, he’s brazenly challenged Apollo’s son, new world champ Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), to fight his own son and highly trained sparring machine (Florian Munteanu) for the belt.

As Adonis’ trainer, Rocky’s skepticism about the matchup, spearheaded by a greedy promoter (Russell Hornsby), complicates his relationship with his protégé. Plus, it opens old wounds for Adonis, whose attempt to start a family with his new fiancée (Tessa Thompson) is challenging.

It’s a fast-paced, workmanlike effort from director Steven Caple Jr. (The Land), who doesn’t match the blue-collar visual flair that Ryan Coogler brought to the first film. Still, the technically proficient fight scenes yield plenty of visceral thrills.

Great training montages have been a hallmark of the Rocky movies, and this installment is no different, with a desert sequence prior to the finale that sufficiently gets the adrenaline pumping.

The film overdoses on nostalgia while clinging tightly to formula and to its working-class Philly roots. However, the screenplay by Stallone and newcomer Juel Taylor manages some powerful character-driven moments that reflect genuine passion and humanity while telling parallel father-son stories dealing with past grudges, family legacies, and residual guilt.

Stallone essentially repeats his wise-old-sage portrayal from the prior film, but Jordan finds the right balance between Adonis’ external bravado and his unvented internal turmoil. It’s a shame that the villainous Dragos aren’t given more depth.

Like its characters, the enduring franchise has been knocked down a few times, yet remains standing. In this case, that’s worth cheering.

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