For all their triumphant simplicity, the original Rocky and the original Creed were what we used to just call "movies," by which I mean Hollywood underdog fables told with sincerity and an attention to life as it's actually lived. Creed II, like Rocky II, is something less. It's a Rocky movie, just the latest go-round, its story more formulaic, its people less specific, its rhythms as wheezily familiar as a workout you should have changed up weeks ago. It's a diminishment of Creed, a dumbing down, just as Rocky II was a diminishment of Rocky.
Its makers seem to think so little of viewers that they enlist, during all three of this sequel's boxing matches, jabbering sportscasters who exhaustively explain to us every lunge and jab that we've just seen. "What a turn this fight's taken!" they exclaim. "It all feels so Shakespearean!" they insist. Imagine it: The filmmakers think you're too dumb to follow the emotional thrust of a Rocky movie.
The story concerns sort of a play date between the kids fathered by the first generation of Rocky boxers: Creed versus the son of Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago, who in Rocky IV was built up as the most devastating weapon in the Soviet nuclear arsenal. He's the one, you may recall, who killed the first Creed father in the ring. It's all ludicrous. Still, for all that, Creed II does have a pulse. The training sequences, always the series' highlight, again build and build and peak in an endorphin rush. The climactic fight, too, is satisfyingly staged; people sitting near me in the theater gasped and sucked in their breath right along with the most brutal blows.