“Creed 2” Movie Review


     It was actually surprising to me when director Ryan Coogler didn’t allow the mention of a  potential match up between an upstart Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in “Creed”, given the fact all parties, including Adonis, would certainly have known Drago’s son existed and was also an up and coming boxer.  But Coogler wisely went in a different direction, letting us learn more about Adonis as the character developed into someone relatable before going all in on what would be an obvious future storyline.  “Creed” was one of the best films of 2015 and in many ways is one of the best films in the “Rocky” saga, bringing another larger than life character to the screen who was effectively given the torch from Rocky Balboa and created his own appealing and charismatic persona.  Make no mistake, without the energy and passion Jordan brings to the table, we would not be seeing the story continuing with “Creed 2”.

     Taking over for Coogler, whose “Black Panther” commitments would not allow him to helm the sequel, is second time feature director Steven Caple Jr., a filmmaker who proves more than capable of delivering the required elements a film such as this requires given the rich history of the franchise.  “Creed 2” is not only a solid continuation of the story which began in the first installment, but it also stands as a worthy story all on its own.  As I previously stated, the storyline is a no brainer.  The key was always going to be how it was presented and what the best way to raise the stakes as high as possible would be.  It’s clear from the result Caple and screenwriters Sylvester Stallone and Joel Taylor figured that out and then some.

     The film begins with a cold open in which we see a fiercely hungry Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) rising from an old beat up couch early in the morning somewhere in the Ukraine as his father, Ivan Drago, accompanies him to a small venue where the young protege brutally dispatches the man in front of him, displaying the kind of raw power one only receives when your parent once possessed the same.  As a scheming promoter, Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), looks on in the crowd, the elder Drago can only smile as they already have their sights set on the newly crowned Heavyweight Champion of the World, Adonis Creed.

     When the challenge is made publicly, Caple stages one of the best scenes of the film in which Drago shows up at Rocky’s restaurant where the two adversaries have a face to face meeting for the first time since their epic battle in “Rocky 4”.  It’s one of those anticipated scenes that immediately reminded me of the inevitable meeting between Pacino and DeNiro in “Heat”.  By the time the scene occurs, you know what the history is and can cut the tension with a knife.  There’s plenty of history between Rocky and Drago obviously, but the fact Drago has a son who has been raised to be a fighter brings forth a new conflict Rocky may not have seen coming.  And if you think Lavar Ball is the world’s most outrageous example of a helicopter parent, wait until you get a load of Drago and his relationship with Viktor.  The kid speaks only when spoken to and is apparently shouldering the burden of redeeming the family name after Drago’s loss to Rocky caused his wife to leave and the country to disown him.

     After winning the title, Adonis is ready to take the next step in his relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), which includes the potential of starting a family.  All of this adds up to the exact kind of distraction Rocky once faced when he fought Clubber Lang in “Rocky 3”, which culminates in Rocky refusing to train him when he accepts Drago’s challenge.  The fact Caple spends a fair amount of time fleshing out these various issues and conflicts bodes well for the fight sequences later on.  What made the first “Rocky” film work so well was the relationships fostered between the characters that ultimately made the fight memorable.  You could make the argument that after “Rocky 2”, the formula changed and instead became more of a crowd pleasing franchise dependent on over the top personalities, glorious training montages, and brutal boxing sequences that were nothing like real life.  But both “Creed” and now “Creed 2” seem to have gone back to what made the first film a Best Picture winner by bringing the emotional side of both our protagonists and antagonists back to center stage.  

     Truth be told, what stuck with me the most about “Creed 2” wasn’t the climactic battle between Adonis and Viktor.  When you look deeper, “Creed 2” is more about life and the struggles we all face each day.  It’s about overcoming the fears we have inside us, as well as realizing what is actually important and what is better left as a battle to be fought another day.  There’s a lot going on inside of Adonis’ head as he grapples with the notion of avenging the death of his father of whom he never knew.  At face value, it’s an easy decision.  But the young Creed hasn’t had the experiences of Rocky and his mother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who know all too well the pitfalls of sacrificing yourself when revenge or relevancy are the sole motivation.  It’s how Caple effectively guides the audience through all of this that gives “Creed 2” the kind of heart and soul most sequels are normally missing, all the while ensuring the fight sequences have the necessary and well earned emotional weight that make them so much more. GRADE: B+