Film review: Creed II fails to deliver knock-out blow despite sure-footed fight scenes
CREED II (12A, 130 mins) Drama/Action/Romance. Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Brigitte Nielsen. Director: Steven Caple Jr
Released: November 30 (UK & Ireland)
DEEP-rooted nostalgia for Rocky fails to deliver a knock-out blow in the eighth instalment of the long-running series, which punched well above its weight class in 1977 by winning three Academy Awards including best picture and best director.
Co-written by Sylvester Stallone, whose fingerprints are on the scripts to every bruising bout in the saga, Creed II unleashes the same flurry of emotional jabs as its brawny predecessor but these slick moves fail to connect squarely in a sequel that hankers for the past.
Director Steven Caple Jr choreographs impressive sweat-drenched fight sequences between leading man Michael B Jordan and real-life German boxer Florian Munteanu – a hulking 6ft 4in man-mountain with eight-pack abs and a stone-cold stare to match his intimidating physical presence.
Inside the ring, the film is on sure footing and there are familiar bursts of adrenaline for us as well as the characters as they dig deep to overcome dizzying blows and achieve glorious destinies.
Away from the fisticuffs, Juel Taylor and Stallone's wistful script raises its gloves to earlier films, most explicitly Rocky IV, in which Soviet Union brawler Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) delivered a fatal blow to Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) then faced Rocky Balboa (Stallone) on home soil.
"I must break you," Drago growled at the American fighter shortly before the bell sounded on round one.
More than 30 years after that epic showdown, Ivan is living in ignominy in Kiev, haunted by defeat and the breakdown of his marriage to wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen).
In search of redemption, Ivan trains his only son Viktor (Munteanu), moulding his offspring into a perfect physical specimen and a fearsome contender for the heavyweight championship belt in the possession of Rocky's protege, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan).
"That kid was raised in hate," Rocky warns Adonis, who arrogantly believes he can overcome Drago junior without the backing of his mentor and corner man.
Adonis prepares to defend his title with singer-songwriter fiancee Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his mother (Phylicia Rashad) in his corner.
Seconds out and around the narrative houses we go...
Creed II lays on the tortured father-son dynamics with a trowel as Caple Jr ticks off a familiar list of tropes: Pre-match tension, a near-fatal setback, hard-fought rehabilitation, a graveside confessional and grandstand final showdown.
Jordan, Stallone and Thompson ease back into their comfortable roles while Lundgren has far richer dialogue for his second appearance as Drago.
He sparks winning screen chemistry with imposing newcomer Munteanu.
Syrupy romantic interludes between Adonis and Bianca, including an earnest marriage proposal ("You're the only one I want to share my moments with!"), struggle to up the emotional stakes as the film slugs its way into an unnecessary third hour.