The magic that makes the "Rocky" movies so entertaining is bursting at the seams with the hugely enjoyable "Creed II".
The climactic boxing match of "Creed II" — because all these films end in climactic boxing matches — is one of the most electric and exciting sequences in movies this year. "Creed II" is the pinnacle of heroic sports movies with a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of energy.
It works as both a good follow-up to the first "Creed" and as a new entry in the overall "Rocky" franchise, with a lot of meaningful connections to the previous movies.
Thirty years after Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed in the ring in "Rocky IV", the son of Drago arrives in America to challenge the son of Creed to a boxing match. It's a simple story about two men punching each other a lot, fueled by legacy, father figures, pride and anger.
Michael B. Jordan returns as Adonis Creed, a feisty young fighter who hasn't matured too much since his debut in 2015's "Creed". Jordan infuses the character with such misplaced anger that he's hard to root for in the first half of the film. But once he learns some humility and starts training for the big final bout, Jordan is a powerhouse.
"Creed II" doesn't shy away from the expected tropes of a good sports film. Adonis Creed might as well be on a roller coaster for all the predictable highs and lows he faces in the movie. Does he let his arrogance get the better of him, causing him to reach his lowest point? Yep. Does he need a training montage in order to build himself back up, with a perfectly curated musical score? Yep.
But it does so well with these predictable scenes that "Creed II" is never not fun to watch. There are many good reasons why sports movies are so emotionally satisfying, and "Creed II" hits on them all.
Tessa Thompson returns as the supportive girlfriend, who has her own interesting story to tell alongside Jordan. And Sylvester Stallone is as wonderful as always as the mealy-mouthed Rocky Balboa. He's just so good at playing this character that you can't help but see him on screen as an old pal you can always rely on.
A real standout of the film is Dolph Lundgren, who returns as the fearsome Ivan Drago. He was a Soviet cartoon character way back in "Rocky IV" in 1985, but the new film gives him real pathos. Drago's storyline with his son is almost as important and meaningful as Rocky's story with Creed, and it's just as crucial in the climactic fight.
I only wish real-life boxer Florian Munteanu had more of a role as his son, Viktor Drago. He didn't have much dialogue or character. He's big and covered in muscles, so he presents a real challenge in the ring. But there's a lot more to building a good villain than muscles.
The fact that we're still talking about Lundgren in "Rocky IV" all these decades later speaks to that.
If you're already a fan of the "Rocky" films, then "Creed II" is everything you could want it to be and a wonderful continuation of the franchise. It's also one heck of an emotionally-powerful, viscerally satisfying boxing flick.