4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Adonis "Donnie" Johnson-Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) discover they are going to be parents.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; PG-13 for sports action violence, profanity and a scene of sensuality; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Fathers and Sons” featurette
IT STARTED with a simple text message to actor Dolph Lundgren.
“Hey, would you mind playing Drago again? I got this idea. Sins of our fathers.” — Sly Stallone
The 6-foot 4-inch, 260-pound Lundgren of Sweden was educated to become an engineer, earning a Fulbright scholarship to MIT before he moved to New York City to take up acting. Then in 1985, after a bit role in the disastrous James Bond film “A View to a Kill,” Stallone hired him to play Russian boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” His first match would be against heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in Las Vegas. Creed ends up on the canvas, unresponsive, and dies after an onslaught from Drago.
Fast-forward to the successful “Creed” (2015), and we knew a sequel was inevitable. Especially after Michael B. Jordan’s stellar performance as Apollo Creed’s son Adonis “Donnie” Johnson-Creed who recruits Rocky Balboa to be his trainer. Writer/director Ryan Coogler planned to exit the series to direct “Black Panther,” and Stallone, who earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in “Creed,” considered taking the helm. Stallone planned to co-write “Creed II” with Juel Taylor, intending to resurrect Drago. He ultimately felt youth was needed, and African-American director Steven Caple Jr., with only one low-budget indie film “The Land” under his belt, was hired. Coogler became the executive producer.
“Creed II” opens in the Ukraine during the dead of winter as Ivan Drago is training his monster-sized son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to be a world-class boxer. “A vehicle to get himself back onto the world stage,” says Lundgren in the featurette “Fathers and Sons.” Three decades ago, his wife and Russia disowned him after his loss to Balboa in a Moscow arena at the end of “Rocky IV.”
In the world of boxing, many sons follow a similar path, says Jordan: “That’s all they know, growing up in the gym. It's kind of natural Adonis would box after Apollo.” Olympic gold medalist and world champion in five different weight divisions Sugar Ray Leonard says, “I would never encourage my son to box because first of all, he would have so much to overcome.”
Stallone and the producers auditioned hundreds of guys to find the right Viktor, who’s “hell on two feet, with two flying fists,” says Stallone. They settled on a 27-year-old amateur heavyweight boxer Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu from Germany, who also stands 6-foot-4, and has an incredible physic. “It’s like a Mack Truck coming at you,” says Jordan. Munteanu trained for seven months in Philadelphia, working day and night with Caple, to tackle his first acting job.
Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca and now wife, and Phylicia Rashad as his mother Mary Anne Creed return for “Creed II.” “Tessa and I wanted to be sure our conversations on screen reflect how women speak when they’re alone, when they are together, and the things that they would talk about,” Rashad says in “Women of Creed.”
“She’s a mother that cares about her son,” Caple says. Their characters have a voice to be heard, especially during Adonis’ decision for a rematch against Viktor. Bianca has just become a new mom and it seems their baby daughter may have a genetic hearing impairment. The first fight between Adonis and Viktor ends with the Russian disqualified for an illegal blow. Like all Rocky films, the finale is a doozy, with high-powered atmospheric arena acoustics, and in-the-ring camera work putting viewers inside the ropes with Adonis and Viktor.
"Creed II" fell a little short of its critically acclaimed predecessor that earned more than 90 percent with top critics on Rotten Tomatoes; the sequel got over 80 percent. But that didn’t stop moviegoers, since domestic and global box office topped the first “Creed” by $40 million.
The enclosed Blu-ray and streaming sites include three short making-of featurettes, “Fathers and Sons,” “Casting Viktor Drago,” and “The Women of Creed.” There are nine-minutes of deleted scenes, which show the funeral of Rocky’s old fighting partner Spider Rico, and Adonis consoling Viktor after a fight in Moscow. There is the “Rocky Legacy,” highlighting the 40-plus year franchise that’s captivated audiences with its iconic underdog story. “Rocky” (1976) won three Oscars including Best Picture. Stallone says: “He never expected to be champion, he just wanted to go the distance and have a little dignity.”
They also underscore the series' iconic theme song “Gonna Fly Now,” by composer Bill Conti, with its driving horns. Variations weave through the Creed films. “When I hear it, it pumps me up, no matter what,” Sugar Ray Leonard says. Lundgren and Stallone recount their choreographed fight sequences – ballets with gloves, a technique that's used in the Creed films and most action-adventure fight scenes.
Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (“Game of Thrones,” “Terminator Genisys”) used 2.8K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) to capture the intense action inside the ring, and the panoramic visuals of the desert training camp in New Mexico. Mastered in 2K, the upconverted 4K (disc & streaming) has a slight edge over the HD versions with facial and costume clarity, and distant objects and landscapes.
The real jump comes from the expansive contrast levels of HDR10 and Dolby Vision – especially highlights, with more intense spotlights and fire bursts during the pre-fight march to the final battle. The overall color palette is more precise and natural in the multi-culture cast, while the HD versions skew into an orange cast.
The 4K (disc & streaming) and Blu-ray all feature the enveloping Dolby Atmos eight-channel soundtrack, which really kicks during the fight sequences where the music and crowd showcase those power punches. Dialogue is front and center, and never lost within all the effects, and pounding subwoofer bass response. Music tracks include the pre-fight prayer scene's “Amen” from Lil Wayne followed by “We Can Hit” from Crime Mob & Slim Jxmmi, and co-star Tessa Thompson's “Time Tick,” “Midnight,” and “I Will Go to War.”
Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson’s powerful orchestra/electronic score blends in well – but what else would we expect from the Oscar-winning composer for “Black Panther”? His work includes the soulful “You Might Find Me,” co-written with British singer/songwriter Jacob Banks.
“Creed II” fits into the “Rocky” franchise perfectly with a story of personal grit and high-powered action.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer