Two sequels: one knock out, one down for the count

By Chic DiCiccio

Photo courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Dolph Lundgren, Sean Patrowich and Florian Munteanu in “Creed II.”

During the next weekend, one could run out and see two entries into movie franchises that have a total of 16 films preceding them. Folks, that is a whole lot of movie. Other than hours of backstory, that’s about all that the Harry Potter and Rocky Balboa franchises have in common.

Oh, another thing that separates the two is that the latest releases in each franchise are perfect illustrations of how to and how not to make a sequel.

“Creed II,” while not as exhilarating as “Creed,” grows its characters and makes a familiar, predictable tale seem fresh and compelling. It’s got a lead actor in Michael B. Jordan who is about to become a megastar, if he isn’t already.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” has exactly none of those things. Other than looking gorgeous and having seamless effects, it’s an absolute snooze. The main character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), is too meek to be the hero and eccentricity like his only works in small doses. There are dozens of plot lines, none of which are particularly interesting, and some characters make inexplicably stupid life or death decisions.

The first mistake “Grindelwald” makes is putting Jude Law’s Albus Dumbledore on the sidelines for its entire 134 minutes. The second mistake is sparsely taking advantage of a subdued and subtle villainous performance by Johnny Depp as the titularly named Grindelwald. Depp definitely didn’t mail this one in and the movie excels when he’s on screen.

The normally reliable director David Yates is left to make sense of an overly wordy J.K. Rowling screenplay that seems like it would have worked much better as a book. There is a sequence in which a new character blathers on for an eternity while characters with actual audience attachment (such as Katherine Waterston’s Tina or Dan Fogler’s Jacob) stand there and simply listen while making concerned faces. It’s a microcosm of this $200 million bore that’s nothing more than a setup for more movies.

“Creed II” is boring for approximately 15 seconds. Yes, it’s fairly predictable and there are elements of nearly every single “Rocky” movie in it. The difference here is that even though we all know how it’s going to end, the stakes are significantly raised for Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Jordan) and there’s so much to emotionally dig into.

Donnie’s relationships with his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and his trainer, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), drive the majority of the film, but the biggest surprise is the revelation of Dolph Lundgren’s reprisal of Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV.” The relationship he has with his boxer son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), is complex and as enjoyable as the story elements involving Donnie.

Naturally, Stallone tugs at your heart as Rocky, but “Creed II” is definitely Michael B. Jordan’s movie. It’s a showy role without one false note and Jordan pours his heart and soul onto the screen. Jordan is already a fairly well-known actor, but this guaranteed hit is going to push him into superstar status.

“Creed II” picks up the slack for the action that “Grindelwald” is missing. The boxing is flat-out intense, but without being non-realistic. If audiences are anything like the one from the screening of this movie, there will be cheers and applause every time Donnie picks himself up from the mat.

These two sequels are pushing their respective franchises in completely different directions. Another foray into the “Creed” world would be welcomed just to again see Jordan and Thompson light up the screen. But “Fantastic Beasts?” Only the biggest Potter fans could be looking forward to another entry in this very “meh” franchise.