Remember Rocky IV? The one with Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago, the deadly Russian who, after James Brown sings Livin’ in America, punches the life out of Apollo Creed…?
Well, this is the sort of sequel to that one, although obviously it’s the follow on from Creed itself, which saw the magnificent Michael B Jordan emerge as Adonis Creed (Donny), Apollo’s long lost son.
For this finely-crafted, coolly delivered addition to the Rocky film universe (what does that make it, number 8?), Drago himself is back, now as trainer to his son, a hulking brute played by Florian Big Nasty Manteau, training on a building site in Kiev.
They travel to Philly to challenge Donny champion of the World, vowing to restore the family honour which Drago’s loss to Rocky in 1985 has totally destroyed. Will Rocky himself agree to be Donny’s ringman against the man who killed his best friend, in this battle of “two sons linked by tragedy” as those ringside commentators would have it?
Indeed, that’s what works best about this film – tragedy haunts it. Rather than triumph and losing one fight, it’s to do with the feelings of loss and regret. It is thoughtful about the flip side of ring side, what happens to the defeated, the long-lingering effects of battle on fathers, sons, daughters and mothers, and a film that focuses on what is hereditary (Donny’s fiancee, played by Tessa Thompson, falls pregnant) in nature.
Of course, ultimately, it’s also about those training montages and the big fights, all of which are well choreographed and remain fresh and exciting. And Stallone, looking like an old punch bag, is really good, quite sweet actually, awkwardly getting in touch with his emotions.