In ‘Creed II,’ Michael B. Jordan takes a beating and keeps on ticking With unforgettable roles in ‘Black Panther’ and now ‘Creed,’ he’s the poster boy for 2018

The American patriot and central hero of Creed II has zero interest in making googly eyes at Vladimir Putin.

Director Steven Caple Jr. made his feature debut in 2016 at Sundance with The Land, a story about skateboarders set in Cleveland. In the latest chapter of the Creed franchise, he turns a good ol’ Russian-American showdown into a deceptively fun vehicle for exploring ideas about race, patriotism, leadership and modern American masculinity. The satisfaction it brings hits unexpectedly hard, the work of a story originally written by Luke Cage creator Cheo Hodari Coker and then rewritten a couple of times, including by Juel Taylor and star and producer Sylvester Stallone.

Having ascended to heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has little time to enjoy his success before boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby) presents him with a challenge he can’t ignore. Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the vengeful son of Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) and Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen, who reprises her turncoat role with delicious, biting iciness), wants to fight Adonis, and he wants to fight him bad. This feud is generational: Ivan killed Adonis’ father, Apollo, in the ring before getting beaten by Rocky Balboa (Stallone). The Dragos, still stinging from Ludmilla’s abandonment, have been wallowing in shame and isolation in Ukraine while plotting their way back to the top.

Despite the resurrection of a familiar rivalry, the Cold War enmity that fueled the subtext of the Rocky movies has given way in Creed II to a more complicated expression of patriotism familiar to many black Americans. Adonis fights for himself, for his community, for his city, for his father’s legacy.

They’re too polite to say it, but it’s clear that his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and his mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), see his fight with Drago as a suicide mission. Being black women with two working sets of eyes, they are, of course, right.

Creed hangs on to his belt, not because he beats Viktor but because the Russian has so little integrity that he can’t resist landing one more knockout punch after the final bell. Bianca becomes Adonis’ personal Horace Greeley, pushing the couple and baby she’s baking out of the cold, claustrophobic confines of Philadelphia and toward Los Angeles sunshine, where Adonis can figure out how to mend his bruised ego. She wants to get her burgeoning music career off the ground while she still can. Thompson’s performance reveals that no director has yet come close to capturing the full breadth of her talents. She stuns as an artsy-yet-commanding chanteuse and takes full advantage of the third act to unfurl a soaring, magical presence.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed in Creed II.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

In Drago, Creed is battling not only revenge-seeking Russians but also in-the-flesh white supremacy. Not only is the titanic Viktor Drago bigger, faster and stronger than Creed, he looks like what would result if master-race mad scientists were allowed to manufacture a heavyweight boxer with CRISPR gene editing.

Drago will only agree to a rematch if the fight is held in Russia. Can Creed win when “neutral” has shifted so heavily? Because asking the United Nations to monitor the officiating is not an option, Creed deduces that nothing less than an undisputed TKO will do.

The outcome of Creed II is, of course, wholly predictable. Its appeal lies in how it gets there, charting Creed’s path to redemption through the choking hot air of the California desert. As training montages go, the shift in venue serves Creed II especially well: Caple rewards Jordan’s fans with ample shots of his leading man’s rippling physique as the appropriately named Adonis gears up for the fight of his life.

In Adonis, Caple and executive producer Ryan Coogler have crafted a bridge from a stoic brand of American hypermasculinity, one in which “working class” is immediately coded as white, to a modern one that finds its core in romance and history-making legacy, a point Caple punctuates with a shot of Adonis cradling his daughter, Amara, in his father’s boxing gym as a billboard-sized image of Apollo stands watch in the background. Anger, hunger for revenge and brute strength aren’t enough to vanquish an existential opponent like Viktor Drago. Only focus, endurance and strategic precision will prevail.

Coogler and Caple are the architects of this year’s one-two punch of cinematic black power, with leading man Jordan as the fulcrum. While Coogler used Black Panther to imagine an African utopia untouched by the evils of imperialism, Caple’s latest chapter of the Rocky story projects a vision in which restoring the glory and honor of an imperfect America lies in the hands of a black man.

As Killmonger in Black Panther and Adonis in Creed II, Jordan toggles from an avatar of the lethal efficiency of the American military-industrial complex, molded and calcified by white supremacy, to a symbol of American perseverance, triumph and calculated might on the world stage. These two unforgettable roles have made Jordan the poster boy for 2018.

Adonis Creed may be an American with a world heavyweight title, but in the hands of Coogler and Caple, he belongs to black people first. And the possibilities for what lies ahead are already spinning. Baby Amara is the next generation of the Creed family, and her father has deemed her “a fighter.” Are Coogler, Caple & Co. setting us up for a chapter in which the future is female?

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet #Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

The internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.

Daily Dose: 7/19/17 Russell Westbrook rocks ‘Fight Racism’ shirt

I’ve got a new podcast coming out later Wednesday, and it’ll be a review of my time in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, that town is back in the news because of another police shooting, this time involving a yogi who was shot and killed.

Russell Westbrook has been making fashion statements for a long time. But Tuesday night at Sports Illustrated‘s Fashionable 50 event, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard presented a larger message than just “look at me.” He wore a T-shirt that says “Fight Racism” on the red carpet, and he’s the cover boy. It’ll be interesting to see how this flies in the state he plays in, as opposed to the city he’s from and lives in, Los Angeles. To be clear, Westbrook also likes the way it looks. Obviously.

The president of the United States has a sidepiece. He happens to be the president of Russia. And like in many covert relationships, because he’s not being honest about it, the rest of his world is becoming more difficult to maintain. As it turns out, there were actually a whole lot of people in that Trump Tower meeting that his son had with a Russian lawyer, and the number appears to be going up. Also, the president apparently decided to have a separate meeting with Vladimir Putin and his interpreter at the G-20 summit.

If you don’t know, O.J. Simpson has a parole hearing coming up Thursday. If you’ve forgotten, he’s in prison for a crime completely unrelated to the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. He’s been locked up for pulling a gun on two guys over some memorabilia of his in Las Vegas. Simpson has been incarcerated for nine years, and there are people who believe that he’s likely to get out. I’m infinitely fascinated with what will be the third chapter of Simpson’s life and what he’ll be like if he is freed.

Magic Johnson is extremely high on Lonzo Ball. Ever since the rookie was named MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League and his team won the title, Johnson’s been proved right to an extent. Mind you, Magic was hyping homeboy immediately after the draft, so this is nothing new. And we thought LaVar Ball had a lot to say. Now, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations says those triple-doubles will be coming quite frequently in the regular season too. There’s no question that they’ll be fun to watch next season.

Free Food

Coffee Break: It never ceases to amaze me how many people the Kardashians are connected to in one way or another. It’s part of the reason that I call them America’s greatest television family. Turns out, the doctor who delivered Beyoncé’s babies is also the Kardashian deliverer, and even delivered Kim herself.

Snack Time: Rae Sremmurd are in the prime of their careers. Hit songs, great videos, sold-out shows. Now they’ve got a comic book featuring their likeness coming to fruition. It’s supposed to hit shelves in October.

Dessert: For whatever reason, I love the A$AP Rocky/Lana Del Rey relationship. They’ve got two new songs.

Daily Dose: 7/7/17 Venus Williams’ Wimbledon greatness continues

This week of radio has come to a close, but this time I filled in with Izzy Gutierrez on The Dan Le Batard Show. If you want to listen to all three hours, you can do that here, here and here. Summer holiday week radio, kiddos.

Trump and Putin met for a long time today. They were supposed to sit down for only a half-hour or so, but the meeting stretched to more than two hours, which is leading all sorts of people to speculate about what they actually discussed since they finally had some privacy. If you believe that these two have been in cahoots all along, this doesn’t exactly bode well. But, then again … well, actually, never mind. Lord knows what went on in that get-together, so here’s what we at least think we can deduce.

When I take Amtrak to NYC and back, the computing situation is always dicey. Wi-Fi is always tough, so expecting to get any work done is never realistic. But some people take things next level when it comes to trains. Talking in the quiet car is one thing, but this woman in the U.K. is a complete hero. She brought her entire iMac on to a moving train. Why anyone would do this, iHave no idea, but props for pulling it off. Seriously, what on earth do you have to be working on for this to be required? I’ll never know.

People who don’t clean up after their dogs are monsters. It’s gross, unsanitary and, in many cases, illegal. There are various ways to confront people who do this. The No. 1 seed in that tournament is to simply approach the person and say, “Hey, get it together.” Or, you can put up a bunch of passive-aggressive signs around your neighborhood with goofy cartoons on them. But one person wants to know if it’s worth going all the way to the wall with, by ratting out the offenders to the apartment building authorities. Short answer: no.

Venus Williams is still fighting the good fight. She beat Japan’s Naomi Osaka in straight sets, leaving her as the only champion left in the women’s draw at Wimbledon. Of course, little sister Serena isn’t playing because she’s having a baby, but it should also be said that Venus is the oldest woman to ever enter the draw at the All-England Club. When it’s all said and done, it’s hard to overstate how great she’s been, particularly at this tournament. She’s won more trophies at Wimbledon than at any other Grand Slam tournament, and I’m rooting for her to keep rolling.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t like Lil Yachty, I don’t know what to tell you. The kid exudes positivity, makes bangers and has his career together, but there are still people in these streets hating on him as a mumble rapper. He calls himself the King of the Teens, but what happens when he hits his 20s?

Snack Time: Blac Chyna has filed for a restraining order against Rob Kardashian. This is a stunning development in the K clan, as he decided to go full-blown revenge porn on her, which is never the right move. What a mess.

Dessert: Here’s an A$AP Rocky song to take you into the weekend. Happy summer.