Grade: B+
Entire family: No
2018, 130 min., Color
MGM/Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

If there were an Energizer Bunny Award for movie franchises, I’d nominate the Rocky series. How many times can you go with a familiar formula and still crank out some pretty effective films? Well, Elvis Presley films not withstanding. As the aggregate fan/critic site attests, there’s really only one stinker in the original bunch:

Rocky (1976)—8.1 out of 10

Rocky II (1979)—7.2 out of 10

Rocky III (1982)—6.8 out of 10

Rocky IV (1985)—6.8 out of 10

Rocky V (1990)—5.2 out of 10

After that last disappointment, sixteen years later the franchise picked itself up off the mat and scored another TKO, though it would seem the producers weren’t comfortable counting higher than five in Roman numerals. Rocky Balboa also marked a change in direction for the franchise and star Sylvester Stallone, who was coaxed out of retirement for one last fight before turning to managing fighters—specifically, the son of his old friend and foe, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers)—in the two films to follow:

Rocky Balboa (2006)—7.2 out of 10

Creed (2015)—7.6 out of 10

Creed II (2018)—7.4 out of 5

Of course, they’re not stopping there. Why would they? Creed II, like the others in the revived series, is a highly entertaining film. And how can you not love a franchise that has been around so long that in one scene they can showcase the statue of Rocky on the steps of the art museum in Philadelphia? Art mirroring reality mirroring art.

As a crusty no-nonsense trainer, Rocky is almost as fun to watch as his old trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) from the first five films. And he has an interesting relationship with young Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), son of the legendary Apollo Creed, who was killed in the ring fighting the Russian boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Rocky was in the corner the day Apollo was killed, so he has more than a passing interest in Adonis. What develops between them is a surrogate father-son relationship that pulls the best out of both actors, and the emotions that each one feels on so many different levels nicely complicates what might otherwise have been a simple punch-it-out drama. Stallone is even more likable in a diminished role as trainer than he was as a boxer because he doesn’t overact—he’s gracefully grown into the grizzled veteran-turned-mentor so that the famous upturned brim fedora seems especially appropriate.

In this sequel to Creed, the likable Adonis is still getting used to the idea of being champion when he receives a brash challenge from Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), Ivan’s son. There’s seething resentment in the Drago family, because in the Soviet Union the government didn’t take kindly to a big loss in a symbolic Cold War fight. Drago was dishonored, his fortunes took a tumble, and his wife—Viktor’s mother—left them because of the shame. So there you go: In this corner, young Adonis is thinking about avenging his father’s death, and in the other corner the taller, stronger, and more vicious Viktor is trying to restore the family’s name in Russia. Pretty high stakes, huh?

Creed II follows a narrative arc that includes a double bout between the two, with Adonis’ mother (Phylicia Rashad) and his newly pregnant wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), supplying the sideline worry. Unlike some fight films where the sideplots seem hastily thrown together, theirs at least are nicely integrated.

Language: Pretty mild for a boxing film, just minor swearwords scattered here and there

Sex: One implied sex scene with some caressing and clothing removal but nothing graphic is shown

Violence: It’s a boxing movie, so yes, there are some bloody and intensely violent scenes in the ring; outside the ring, nothing really

Adult situations: Some alcohol, smoking, and drug use

Takeaway: Though Creed is a boxing film, it’s a solid drama first, and that means you don’t have to be a boxing fan to enjoy it any more than you had to love basketball to love Hoosiers