Creed II

 

            Tough and tender. That's “Creed II.”

            Tough:  We first meet Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) as he is pummeling an opponent in a boxing ring.  He's big, muscular, mean, and focused.  He looks unstoppable.

            Tender:  Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is trying to practice getting down on one knee and proposing to his fiancee, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).  He finally gets up the nerve just as she's coming out of the bathroom, when she hasn't yet put in her hearing aids (she has a hearing disability).  She didn't hear a word he said.  So he has to start over again.  This time, she reacts in the way he'd hoped.  She accepts, and they kiss, and Director Steven Caple, Jr. discreetly cuts to the big picture window, where the city lights are gleaming.

            Tough:  Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, wins a hard-fought match from a skilled but aging titleholder, and Adonis Johnson becomes the heavyweight champion of the world.

            Tender:  Adonis and Bianca go to visit his mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).  She notices that Bianca has a certain sheen on her skin, and a shine in her eyes.  She surmises that Bianca's pregnant.  This is news to both Bianca and Adonis, but the pregnancy test proves that Mary Anne's intuition is right.  Bianca says she's not sure she's ready.  Adonis says they're going to have to get ready.

            Tough:  Adonis asks his old trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him for his next fight, a challenge from the formidable Viktor Drago, the son of the boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who fought Adonis' Dad, Apollo Creed, and beat him so badly that Apollo Creed died from his injuries.  Rocky thinks Adonis is fighting for all the wrong reasons, and refuses to help him.  Adonis is beaten badly, but manages to officially hold on to his title because Drago is disqualified for hitting Adonis after he was down.

            Tender:  Bianca has a baby girl, and she's healthy.  Only later do they discover that she has the same hearing impairment as Bianca.

            Tough:  Adonis goes through a funk after his lopsided loss, and doesn't even feel like going back to the gym.  He's lost his moorings.  Viktor, meanwhile, continues to pummel every opponent, and demands a rematch with Adonis, who's by now not only out of sync, but out of shape.

            Tender:  Rocky visits the grave of his wife, Adrian, and talks to her about the weather, and what's happening in his life.  The sore spot is that he is estranged from their son.  And because of that estrangement, Rocky hasn't even met his grandson.  Rocky, the tough guy, looks very vulnerable.

            Tough:  Adonis asks Rocky to help him train for the rematch, and this time they take it very seriously.  They go out to a remote training camp, where there's nothing to do but train.  We watch several sequences of extreme workouts.

            Tender:  Bianca asks Adonis to baby sit while she goes to work on her music.  She's a singer, and she misses performing.  He understands that everybody has to do what they're meant to do.  And he was meant to box.

            Tough:  The re-match is brutal; a slugfest for the ages.  Both fighters are bloodied and bruised, and both have to find the will to get up off the mat after being knocked down.  Do you really have to ask how it turns out?

            Tender:  Adonis goes to his father's grave to talk to him, and brings Bianca and their daughter to “introduce” them.

            Tough and Tender together.  That's “Creed II.”

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association