In 2015 I walked into a film that I really had no idea what to expect from. It was Creed, and it absolutely blew me away, becoming one of my favorite films of the year, much to my shock. I’ve never been a Rocky guy. I’ve seen most of them, but almost none of them all the way through in one go. They’ve the kind of movies that I’ve watched bits and pieces of my whole life, picking them up on cable or when I visit my folks. I have almost no affection for the series, and the whole idea of Creed seemed a little ridiculous to me. But, I see just about everything, so I went in, and ended up leaving in tears. I loved Creed. It solidified my undying affection for Ryan Coogler, Michael B Jordan, and Tessa Thompson, and it’s been awesome seeing that film help jettison all three of them into super-stardom, giving us three people whose careers I’m fascinated to watch. It was a near perfect little film, one that someone like me, unfamiliar with the Rocky series other than the broadest strokes, could go in completely blind and be swept up by the drama and characters. But, we live in a world where if something’s successful, we’re going to get more of it, whether we want it or not. Hell, the Rocky series itself is proof of that. So, it was inevitable that we’d be getting a sequel to Creed, hoping to give us just more of the same, with one major change. No more Ryan Coogler. He’s been picked up by the Marvel machine, and there was certainly a part of me that was worried the heart and soul of Creed would leave with him. Especially when it became clear that his was going to deeply involve the events of Rocky IV. And yet, it ended up a lot better than I was worried it would be. Still not quite sure it was necessary, but for the most part it did what it needed to do.
Creed II picks up several years after the events of Creed, and things have gone pretty much exactly like you’d think they would. Adonis and Bianca are still together, and Adonis is getting ready to participate in a bout that will make him the heavyweight champion of the world. And, he wins. Adonis has created his own legacy, and now that he’s established beyond the shadow of his father, he’s ready to start his own life. He proposes to Bianca and the two get ready to move to Los Angeles, despite the reluctance to leave Rocky behind in Philadelphia. Everything seems to be going great for Adonis. Which is when they get some weird news. Ivan Drago, the boxer who killed Adonis’ father Apollo in Rocky IV has arrived in Philadelphia with his son Viktor, officially challenging Adonis for the heavyweight championship title. Apparently after losing to Rocky in the 1980’s Drago’s life fell apart. His country abandoned him, his wife left him, and he’s spent the ensuing decades training his son to be an even better fighter than him to bring glory back to the Drago name. And, because Adonis still has a lot of issues with the death of his father that he hasn’t dealt with, he decides to accept the challenge, even though Rocky doesn’t think it’s a good idea. In fact, Rocky is so opposed to it that the two get in a big enough fight that Adonis decides to no longer use Rocky as a coach. He heads to Los Angeles, and begins training with a new coach to beat Viktor Drago. While there they learn that Bianca has become pregnant, and Adonis is ready to welcome a new daughter and beat the family that killed his father. But, that doesn’t happen.
Adonis and Drago go head to head in a highly publicized fight, and Drago absolutely destroys Adonis. But, he accomplished this with an illegal move, disqualifying him from proper victory. To the point that Adonis is rushed to the hospital, his ribs shattered and his legacy in question. Adonis is a shadow of himself at this point, learning to heal and deal with his new life as a father. He becomes stubborn and withdrawn, especially when his daughter is born and they learn that she inherited Bianca’s hearing disorder, making her deaf. Adonis doesn’t seem to know what to do with his life, and he begins being warned that if he doesn’t accept another fight he’s going to lose his title. So, after conferring with Bianca, he decides to get back together with Rocky and take on Viktor Drago once more. Rocky agrees, and the two head out to the middle of the desert to begin an intense regiment to get him specifically trained to defeat Drago. And, once ready, Adonis, Rocky, and Bianca head to Russia to take the fight directly to Drago. The two then begin a titanic bout, each of them shocked at how well they’re doing. They go on for several rounds, far more than anyone anticipated Adonis to get. They each knock each other down several times, and it becomes a very bloody and dangerous fight, to the point that Ivan has to make a decision he never though he’d make. He throws in the towel, accepting that he’s once again lost the respect of his people, but safe in the knowledge that his revenge hasn’t gotten his son killed. The fight ends, Adonis remains the heavyweight champion, and everyone returns to their lives, ready to take on any new challenges that come up.
This movie’s pretty good. Nothing too special, and nowhere near the sheer emotional peaks that the original get to, but it’s certainly better than I thought it was going to be. I wasn’t expecting much from this film, and it kind of delivered everything I thought it would. We get a super-happy beginning, showing that everything is going swell for our heroes, a defeat to take the air out of them, and then a triumph to get everything back to that state of perpetual happiness. It’s a Rocky sequel. Nothing more, nothing less. The first film took the franchise into new and bold directions while still using the framework of the older series. And this film just kind of does what you’d expect it to do. Adonis, Bianca, and this version of Rocky are all really great characters, and there was certainly a part of me that enjoyed seeing them again. Michael B Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone are all great in the movie, and at times I kind of felt like I would have loved to just see a sequel that followed these people without any boxing interfering in their lives. But, that would never happen. As it stands, this is a competent film, just not one that lit a fire under me like Creed did. Steven Caple Jr had huge shoes to fill with the departure of Ryan Coogler, but I think he did a good job. The film is really well-shot, full of that tight and claustrophobic camera-work that brought the fights in Creed to life, while dealing with the more intimate and emotional moments just as well. I’m not familiar with Caple Jr, but I think he has potential to make some really great movies, especially with the success of this movie. There’s just some shaky writing to deal with, a general predictability of everything, and the weird feeling of having to take Rocky IV seriously.
Which ends up being the strangest part of this entire film. I know people love Rocky IV. And, for what it is, it’s incredibly entertaining. But it’s easily the most ridiculous thing the franchise ever did, necessitating not one, not two, but three attempts to get the franchise more serious and usable again. The first Creed walked a fine line, mining emotional content from the death of Apollo Creed while never mentioning that he died dressed like Uncle Sam while fighting a Soviet superhuman. But, this film doubles down on the insanity of that decision and makes Rocky IV the most important Rocky film to this plot. We take so much time to think about that ridiculous movie, and the movie expects us to come in with the emotional baggage we’ve built from years watching that absurd movie. We spend so much of this film talking about the past of the franchise, hoping that we feel emotional about a movie that featured a goddamn wacky robot. Creed was a film entirely about legacy, both for the characters and a meta-commentary of the legacy of the entire franchise. And this film ends up doing a similar thing, tackling the idea of being haunted by your past, and being adult enough to face your past decisions. In the plot’s case, we get a movie where Rocky is dealing with the question of if he could have done more to save Apollo, Adonis is tormented by questions of what could have been, and Ivan is stuck in the past that destroyed him. But the meta-commentary ends up revolving around the franchise looking at the weird and somewhat shameful past of the franchise, specifically in the form of Rocky IV, and tries to deal with it, bringing some emotionality from it. And I think the plot succeeds more than the meta-commentary.
Creed II was written by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone, directed by Steve Caple, JR, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, 2018.
Categories: Reel Talk