Creed II, 2018.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, and Milo Ventimiglia.
Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, light heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago.
Director Steven Caple Jr. accepts the Herculean challenge of following Ryan Coogler’s Rocky rebranding (Creed) with a hungry heart and fighter’s spirit. Creed II is a haymaker-throwing contender that relies on more conventional, by-tradition sports underdog dramatics, but vulnerable themes of fatherhood and legacy value “Creed vs. Drago” beyond spectacle boxing merit. Mistakes of the past – Rocky IV – flood back as namesake generations shape destinies around Apollo’s tragic death, Rocky’s withholding the white towel, and Ivan’s national shaming. When mouthguards are in, Creed II endures and delivers. When gloves are off? Creed II slugs heavier emotional jabs exemplified by the strained relationship between Ivan Drago and his purebred destroyer son.
It’s the storied continuation of Adonis Creed’s growth that Rocky franchise fans should expect – to a scripted detriment – but the film’s warrior attitude never quits until we’re believers nonetheless.
After his statement loss against Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) quickly becomes the reigning World Heavyweight Champion after handily defeating Danny Wheeler (Andre Ward). Adonis holds the belt, but before celebrations can even commence, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) flies his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to Philadelphia with title contention on their minds. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) begs Adonis not to take the fight, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) worries, but Adonis won’t allow his father’s name disrespected by the Dragos. Everyone can only pray history doesn’t repeat itself.
Where Creed II overplays its nostalgia factor, inevitability pertains not only to Apollo Creed’s constant reference – inevitable – but Adonis’ own Humpty Dumpty arc. Viktor Drago, more Greecian statue than man, ruptures Adonis’ kidney among other injuries during their first contest (which he’s DQ’ed from, allowing a redemptive rematch). Rebuilding montages play more like Nike advertisements as Rocky bangs against Adonis’ washboard abs with a medicine ball, scored to tracks screaming words like “WINNER!” and “WARRIOR!” All this while every character and their second cousin reminds Adonis of his father’s Drago-inflicted fate, which – yes, controversy sells – but Creed handles these reflections more genuine commital. Creed II banks a bit too harshly on the past.
At least regarding Apollo’s memory and memorial.
Film franchises don’t always get the chance to revisit defeated villains decades later, but Creed II does not waste Ivan Drago’s return. Russia’s disgraced hammer-fisted son; forgotten after his “embarrassing” loss. Ivan’s an Eastern European shell with a scowl – which he passes onto his behemoth of a son, Viktor. Mountains of muscle built around so much internalized pain. “This is why your mother left us!” Ivan programs Viktor to act on nothing but anger, which makes the young man’s desire for approval – those quick but noticeable glances to Ludmilla Drago (Brigitte Nielsen) sitting ringside – tell such an affecting tale. Ivan more a trainer than father who still, after losing to Rocky, preaches “Break him.”
Suffice it to say, it’s Ivan and Viktor’s evolution that breaks us as the final bell rings.
Legacy is what fuels Adonis, as Michael B. Jordan’s performance transfixes on a world-champion boxer whose ego revolves around his costly desire to dodge Apollo’s shadow – but cannot. The minute Viktor and Ivan call Adonis out, their match is on. Jordan’s world-class swagger – blockbuster entrance production and zero humility – confidently struts Adonis towards his accepted destiny, but the fighter’s inevitable breakdown is more impressive. Adonis claims he’s nothing like his father, a man of his own stature, yet he’s laid up in a hospital bed, brutally defeated after hastily accepting a trial he should never have. A man so caught up in legacy his choices reflect the exact pattern he swore not to repeat. Enter Rocky once again, previously absent based on disapproval, after traveling three days by train (oh, Rocky!) to ensure Adonis beats Viktor by changing his entire routine.
And that’s only a fraction of this two-plus-hour affair (tighten up, boys).
Creed II gives Adonis everything to lose by not only upgrading his relationship status with Bianca to “Happily Married,” but introducing a pregnancy into the fold. Jordan’s portrayal of a pugilist sells each duck-and-weave, but his chemistry with Tessa Thompson once again manages to sustain one of the sequel’s most accomplished layers. Two souls beating in rhythm, connected by a desire for the other to succeed no matter what fears come along with that devotion. One of the year’s most empowered sequences will be Adonis’ second ring entry – in Russia, Viktor’s home turf advantage – where musician-mode Bianca leads her man’s crew out while dropping another hot-as-fire original track. It’s such a mutually stirring shared selflessness after noted turmoil, cutting to the core of their collective importance. Adding their nugget of an offspring only deepens this bond (especially noting how Bianca’s hearing damage could be hereditary).
Technical aspects and fight-night cinematography sell a combatant’s showcase, albeit over the top. Jordan furiously pounds his gloves against the mat; Florian Munteanu registers Richter scale movement with his bone-crunching blows. Snapping photography bulbs capture slow-mo flops onto the canvas, and when odds seem down-and-out, triumphant Rocky theme song trumpets blare. It’s enough to make you wince and jump out of your seat at the same time. From desert junkyard training outposts constructed of tire punching bags and “dig sand holes with a sledgehammer” drills to blood-spitting title bouts, Caple Jr. oversees another inspiring chase of glory (with less of a handle on grounded beats).
Much like Adonis Creed, Creed II refuses to be unappreciated through indomitable determination. Extreme lows, extremer highs, a whirlwind of obstacles ganging up on an underdog with plotted timing – yet we’re still cheering as Adonis and Viktor battle for more than a golden waist trophy. Adonis fights for his new family, his deceased father, and “Unc” Rocky (who gets his own fatherhood analysis). Viktor fights for his father’s restored dignity, to maybe reconnect with his estranged mother, and fill a void widened by Ivan. Legacy, we see, as a toxic influence. Repetitions of past mistakes instead of newly forged paths. When we have the most to lose, that’s when we have the most to gain. Find the reason why *you* fight and never let that go. Worth all the pain, sacrifice and passion that makes victories worth every sustained scar as Creed II proves.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).