Creed II

My wife, Ms. Monica Foster, goes to one movie a year with me to celebrate my December birthday. She was forced to acknowledge that though she really liked this film, it wasn’t Oscar caliber. My polite response: “How the hell would you know!”

Creed IICreed II is without question one of the most surprising films of 2018. It is an engaging love story set in a boxing background that I swear will leave many of you wiping away tears at its powerful ending.

Its plot deals with heavy weight boxing champion Adonis Creed being challenged by a towering Ukrainian boxer named Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). Adonis’ father was killed in the ring years earlier by Ivan Drago, Viktor’s father and trainer. Motivated by vengeance, both fighters quickly agree to meet in the ring.

The boxing matches are as artistic as they are violent, and the brutality will remind you of why boxing has lost its public appeal. Fortunately, the film concentrates on the boxers’ lives outside of the ring and it leads you in a totally unanticipated direction.

To begin with, Michael B. Jordan is magnificent as Adonis Creed, a man haunted by the death of a father when he was but a young boy. But he was rescued from his morose existence by falling in love with and marrying Bianca, played glowingly by Tessa Thompson. She is a singer with a terrible hearing disorder, and Creed’s proposal to her is one of the warmest moments you will see in any film this year. Ms. Thompson has become one of my favorite actresses and I urge you to hunt down her performances in Sorry to Bother You (2018), Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Dear White People (2014).

As for Mr. Jordan, his performance here continues to rocket him to the top of the Hollywood acting profession as earlier demonstrated by his roles in Fruitvale Station (2013) and this year’s tremendous Black Panther. In Creed II, he gives a magnetic performance as a boxer who can take a powerful licking in the ring while retaining the ability to be driven by a warm heart as he goes home to recover. It is a moving experience to watch his interaction with his intelligent mother-in-law (Phylicia Rashad) who he has long ignored while providing emotional support for a pregnant wife as they worry if their expected child will have his mother’s hearing problem.

And while the film is enormously helped by Dolph Lundgren’s performance as Drago’s father and trainer, it is worth mentioning the small appearance of Bridget Nielsen as Drago’s mother, a woman who abandoned both husband and father years earlier. Though she says little in her small appearance, it is worth remembering that she was Sylvester Stallone’s second wife.

But what elevates this film to Oscar consideration is an incredible soundtrack and the astonishing performance of Sylvester Stallone. Here he is an aging Rocky Balboa, living alone in Philadelphia trying to train the young Adonis Creed as he fights his shortcomings as a father who has long lost contact with his son and grandson. Stallone’s Balboa is fighting to hang on to some meaning in life as he acknowledges his many shortcomings even when he visits the grave of his deceased spouse. It is not an exaggeration to say that Mr. Stallone has never been better in any film.

This is a movie about individuals fighting human weaknesses as they seek to make sense out of the human experience. More than an athletic contest, it tells the stirring story of average people, which includes both Drago and his father, who find a way to conquer profound disappointments as they discover the importance of love.