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Creed II

Year: 2008
Studio: MGM
Director: Steven Caple Jr
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Briggite Nielsen

It sounds strange to say it because this applies to most (if not all) sequels to some extent, but you couldn't find a movie that exists any more than because its progenitor did so well. How cool, some producer or studio exec thought (or agreed when it was pitched to them) would it be for the children of Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed to box after what happened so long ago?

But with Ryan Coogler having catapulted into the Marvel stratosphere, it's left to a guy I'd never heard of to shepherd this fairly straightforward script to the screen. You can't complain about bad acting because there isn't any, you can't complain about hokey dialogue because there isn't any, and you can't complain about the zillionth movie boxing match because they're well staged, shot and edited.

There's just a very strict set of confines into which a boxing movie can operate. Even though the training montage sequence set in the Mad Max-like desert settlement was a location we'd never seen before, it was still a third act training montage.

Still, the drawcard of Creed vs Drago won me over, so any complaint about formula is a moot point. Donny (Michael B Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) are riding high on his success as her music career starts to take off, and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is still enjoying his dotage in his cruddy apartment, tending to his restaurant and sitting with the graves of Adrian and Paulie to talk about his day.

But a mysterious visitor arrives at the restaurant late one night – a chiselled, grizzled Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, looking far more sensible than he did as the king of the seahorse people in Aquaman). Embittered after everyone in Russia including his frosty wife Brigitte Nielsen abandoned him after his defeat to Rocky in Moscow during their infamous 1985 bout, he's been raising his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to be a monster – showing him nothing but hardship and struggle and training him using brute force to be something that's more of a flesh-coloured tank than a boxer.

It seems the endpoint of his entire master plan is to see Rocky humbled by the defeat of his own progeny (Donny) at Viktor's hands. And here's where the guardrails pull in even tighter to the proscribed boxing movie structure. There'll be two major fights, and in an echo of Rocky III, Donny is too complacent with his success and no match for the iron-hewn Russian who stands about a foot taller than him, especially as Rocky refuses to train him ('you can't win', 'I don't have a choice', 'that's what your father said', etc).

A convenient plot contrivance in a disqualification means Viktor doesn't win the bout either, but it cues an entire second act of soul searching while Donny deals with the abandonment issues from Rocky and his growing responsibilities as Bianca unexpectedly falls pregnant.

It all leads us down the well-trod path to the bought-low training montage of Donny punching car bodies and dragging giant tires across a dusty desert among a clutch of stragglers out of central casting's 'post-apocalyptic biker' headshot catalogue, and the real fight is on.

However, the script by Stallone and the direction by Steven Caple Jr is effective in that you're raring to go when the fight starts. If anything, Drago seems even taller and wider than he was before, dwarfing Donny. The latter is nursing an injury from the pulverised ribs Drago caused last time which you just know is going to come back into it.

But the focus becomes even narrower by virtue of the fact that you can only win or lose a boxing match. The entire Rocky franchise has been a little more subtle and realistic than to just blindly follow the 'good guys wins' trope, but would any big Hollywood movie dare depict the good guy losing?

The performers are all great and the story – tightly controlled by the accepted path of this kind of film – is entertaining, so besides a few laugh-worthy wobbles like Donny's entrance to the big match, it's a worthy follow up.

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