Movie Review – Creed II
In terms of box office, Rocky IV (1985) is the biggest success of this boxing franchise, which is now in its ninth installment and is now 42 years old.
The franchise centers on Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, a world heavyweight boxing champion from Philadelphia. In the first film back in 1976, Rocky was made the champion through his fight and friendship with Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers.
The 1985 film though, introduced Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren. Ivan challenges Rocky for the championship, but Apollo intervenes after being trained by Rocky. Ivan, however, kills Apollo in the ring, forcing Rocky to challenge and defeat Ivan later as a way of avenging his friend and proving American might. All of that was background in Ryan Coogler’s Creed (2015), but this film, co-written by Stallone and directed by Steven Caple Jr, directly addresses that 1985 incident. The way that it does so is a little bit similarly to Cobra Kai, the YouTube series about two men who fought in the 80’s whose decades old rivalry is rekindled. Instead of martial arts like karate, this movie uses the more aggressive martial art of boxing.
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther and Fruitvale Station) reprises his role as Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, but Adonis never knew his father. Apollo died when Adonis was just a baby. That fact haunts the young champion. However, this film picks up not that long after where the previous ended and Adonis is happy. He’s living in Philadelphia with his girlfriend, Bianca Taylor, played by Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok and Dear White People). Bianca is a singer who is losing her hearing, but she’s not letting it stifle her career. She encourages Adonis to move back to Los Angeles, so she can pursue a recording contract. He loves her, so he agrees, but things change when his championship is threatened and in fact directly challenged by an up-and-coming boxer.
Florian Munteanu aka “Big Nasty” makes his big-screen debut as Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago and a mountain of a man. He’s 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds or he’s nearly 2 meters tall and weighs 113 kilograms or about 17 stones. Needless to say, he’s a big, raw, muscular guy with a mean right-hook. He doesn’t speak much. He simply does what his father wants him to do, and Ivan wants Viktor to fight Adonis. Ever since Ivan’s loss to Rocky some 30 years ago, Ivan has fallen out of favor of the Russian elite and powerful. In fact, instead of being a star, he and his son have crappy jobs at the docks and scrape by through petty fights for chump change.
Ivan thinks that beating Adonis will change their social status and restore his reputation in Russia. He’s also out for revenge against Rocky. Rocky obviously doesn’t fight anymore but everyone knows that Rocky trained Adonis, so to have his son beat Adonis would be tantamount to beating Rocky. Ivan says that fighting is all Viktor knows, as Ivan has raised him to know nothing but fighting. It’s never verbalized, but Viktor goes along with his father’s vendetta not for revenge or reputation. Viktor goes along because his mother abandoned him and Ivan, and I’m sure Viktor feels as if he has to do this in order to not lose his father. He loves his father, but, at the same time, he’s wary of his father’s motives. A lot of this is conveyed through Munteanu’s face and body, as he only speaks Russian and isn’t given that many lines, but yet Munteanu proves a good actor in his limited capacity.
Jordan himself proves himself an improving actor. I wasn’t always impressed with Jordan in previous films, but his performance here shows an increase in his range and abilities. His scenes opposite Stallone are probably the strongest, but he also gets a lot of moments opposite Thompson or Phylica Rashad, who plays his mother. In those moments, and even in a few alone moments that he has, Jordan provides what I feel is a contender for any award where he would eligible for best actor.
The question I asked in the previous film is the question that is textual here. Why is he fighting? Adonis doesn’t need to fight Viktor, but he feels driven to do so. I didn’t accept his reason in the previous film, nor do I accept it here. Obviously, it’s a sport and plenty of people participate and enjoy it. His or anyone’s attraction to it specifically is never spelled it. He simply says it’s something that’s a part of him as music is a part of Bianca.
The training montages, which are staples of this franchise, are fairly well-done, providing an energetic feel of the endurance that each men, particularly Adonis has to undertake. No steroids were used on the Russian side this time and instead of training in the snow as in Rocky IV, Adonis is training in the desert. Yet, whether in training or in the ring, the actors and filmmakers do a great job of making us feel what the athletes feel. Every muscle strain and every punch to the gut are felt through the screen.
Subtly running underneath is the theme of legacy, as well as intergenerational connections. The Rocky films have dealt with the father-child relationship before. This one successfully juggles the arcs of three fathers, a father with a newborn, a father with grown child and a father who is dealing with a grown child and a grandchild. All three arcs dovetail effectively and provide a sufficient emotional punch on top of all the physical ones this movie throws at the audience.
Rated PG-13 for sports violence, language and a scene of sensuality.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.