This follow-up to the first Creed three years ago has a different director in Steven Caple Jr. (as Ryan Coogler was off doing Black Panther) but the same thumping and grinding sports movie clichés and oodles of heavy-duty macho soul-baring.
In effect Rocky VIII (meaning Sylvester Stallone has been playing the Rock for 42 years now). This has exactly the plot it was always going to have, as there was simply nowhere else to go, and while the stars look like they’re all shooting for the Oscars they missed last time, it’s tediously plodding rather than punchy.
We catch up with Adonis Johnson/Creed (Michael B. Jordan, also the second ‘bad guy’ in Black Panther) when he’s about to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world (as if there was ever any doubt!). Stallone’s Rocky (who fought Adonis’ late-dad Apollo in the first Rocky in 1976) is on hand to offer sagely meathead advice, and Adonis also uses the weekend in Vegas as a chance to propose to his aspiring singer/songwriter gal-pal Bianca (Tessa Thompson, another Marvel veteran).
No less than the virtually-exiled Ivan Drago is then introduced in bleak Kyiv, Ukraine, and he’s naturally played by Dolph Lundgren, an old offscreen mate of Stallone’s (they’re in the Expendables movies together). And, very surprisingly, jumbo Dolph offers the best performance here: his Ivan (who lost the match with Rocky in the fairly disgraceful Reagan-era Rocky IV 33 years ago) is mean, bitter and vengeful but not unsympathetic, and obviously any movie where Dolph Lundgren is giving the best performance is seriously messed-up.
Ivan has been training up his equally formidable son Viktor (Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu, as his credit reads) to take on Adonis, and there’s a scene where Rock and Ivan face each other and we’re forced to remember that Ivan actually killed Apollo Creed in the ring back in the fourth Rocky (and original star Carl Weathers is shown in a photo in order to make us feel moved, which we’re not). Will Adonis take on Viktor, despite Bianca and Rocky’s concern? You bet he will! He’s a man!
This doesn’t quite work out the way that Adonis intended, but there’s still considerably more than an hour left to go in this ludicrously long epic (130 damn minutes worth!), giving Jordan, Thompson, Stallone and others the chance to emote their hearts out, no matter how silly it all is. Yet we keep on being distracted by how good Dolph and Florian are, and hoping against hope that they’ll kick everyone’s arse.
Sports movies are typically a humdrum bunch. Think about it: there are three options about how the plot will go, with the always upstanding protagonist either: winning the initial game or match or whatever on the first (or second) try; or they lose but they weren’t allowed to win (they were ‘robbed’, as in the first Rocky); or (the rarest of breeds) they lose but it’s a moral victory (as in something like the bowling comedy Kingpin, where Woody Harrelson gets the girl instead). Therefore we then have to wait hours to see which one’s going to happen here. And wait. And wait. And…
There will almost definitely be a Creed III, but it seems that Sly’s Rocky won’t be in it as he recently announced the longtime-coming retirement of the character in a Twitter post. That inevitably means that Rocky will be dead in the next installment, and Jordan’s Adonis will be agonising over that for vast stretches of the interminable narrative.