Cinema Dispatch: Creed II

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Creed II and all the images you see in this review are owned by MGM Pictures

Directed by Steven Caple Jr

Back when I reviewed the first movie, I made a note that my conception of Rocky for the longest time was just the first three films, so the whole Ivan Drago thing always felt like an afterthought despite it being so iconic for many fans of the franchise.  That said, when the first one came out and was about the son of Apollo, yeah there was NO WAY that a sequel could exist without bringing Dolph Lundgren back into the mix which thankfully they managed to do here with what is probably the last necessary sequel to Rocky we’ll ever need (unless we want to bring back Clubber Lang) and they can either continue the franchise without the baggage of the original films or let this series finally lay to rest.  Do they manage to do justice to the story of Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed in this tale about their sons settling a decade’s long rivalry, or should the franchise have stopped while it was ahead?  Admittedly if they HAD stopped while they were ahead we probably wouldn’t have gotten the first Creed, but in any case LET’S FIND OUT!!

The movie picks up a few years after the first film where Adonis Creed () has risen in the ranks of the boxing world with the help of his wise mentor Rocky Balboa () and the loving support of his girlfriend () ().  After winning the WBC World Heavyweight Championship, he has FINALLY reached his dream of reclaiming the belt that his father lost those many years ago!  Well that’s great!  So now what?  He decides to marry Bianca for one, but even with a loving wife and a sterling career, something feels… missing.  Despite being the best of the best, he can’t seem to find the joy in it and pretty much immediately starts looking for a new challenge.  Fortunately a very helpful fight promoter (Russell Hornsby) saw this coming a mile away and knew that once Adonis became champ that there was only one challenge left for him to face, and by challenge I mean one BIG spectacle of a fight to rake in millions of dollars!  We are of course referring to, a rematch with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren); the man who killed his father.  Or at the very least, Ivan Drago’s SON (Florian Munteanu) who as far as I know hasn’t killed anyone, but that might change if Adonis takes the bait and faces him again in the ring.  If you’ve seen a Rocky movie, you know the basics of what happens next (i.e. Adonis loses the fight at the halfway point), but what does it mean for him to have his first taste of true defeat, and will he be able to face him once again, as well as all his fears and insecurities that have held him back from reaching his true potential?  What will the strain of this lose put on his marriage to Bianca, and will she be able to live the life of a boxer’s wife; something that she’s never had to face since Adonis has never truly lost a fight on his own terms?  Perhaps most importantly, DOES ADONIS COME OUT TO LIVING IN AMERICA!?

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It’s hand to HAND across the nation; not hand to FACE!

Well that was pretty darn good!  It’s a bit unassuming at first and felt like it was going to follow the Rocky formula a little TOO closely, namely being a sequel that isn’t as good but tries to compensate by being extra crowd pleasing (*cough* Rocky II *cough*), yet it manages to be a lot more than that.  At the point where I thought the movie might be wavering, it reveals what it is truly about and frankly gets so good that it even surpasses the first film in a few ways.  Perhaps not OVERALL, but as a sequel it’s easily as worthy of a successor to the first Creed film as that was to the Rocky franchise that preceded it.  Now if we get a Creed 3 we’ll probably be pushing it, but then we were pushing the Rocky franchise by that point as well and I was certainly on board for that one!

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If they DO make a third one, they BETTER get Braun Strowman for the charity fight.  That’s all I’m saying!

The first half of the movie feels like your standard boxing sequel.  The guy learned his lesson from the first film, they’re much better than they were before, and they’ve got the world in the palm of their hands before A NEW CHALLENGER comes along to try and take it all away.  All standard stuff and frankly it’s not really that impressive or original compared to other films like it.  Heck, the Rocky II comparisons run even deeper with there being marriage, pregnancy, and possible complications with the baby being present and accounted for.  Everything is just very familiar with the Rocky II allusions, the return of the Rocky IV villain, and even a character who’s a slightly more subtle version of George Washington Duke from Rocky V.  It’s still all fun to watch though as Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Phylicia Rashad are all great in their returning roles, and of course the NEW CHALLENGERS in the form of returning Rocky antagonist Dolph Lundgren and his son played by Florian Menteanu are compelling antagonists whenever we get to see them.  I guess the first half was lacking a hook of sorts to really get us invested right away instead of just being a build up for the second half.  In Rocky II, we got the scenes of Rocky being a fool with his money and failing to do commercials to really drive home how GOING THE DISTANCE hadn’t really solved all his problems.  In Rocky III there wasn’t much going on with him being on top of the world (similar to the scenario in this one), but at least it had the ridiculous wrestling match that’s still one of the most memorable scenes in the entire franchise.  There’s nothing particularly memorable in the first half other than seeing Ivan Drago again, but even then it’s not quite as… IMPACTFUL as you’d kind hope it would be.  Like everything else, this just feels like build up to what’s coming later instead of giving us much to chew on right now.

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“I figure I’d just make a speech, say few folksy metaphors, and throw in a few ‘you know what I’m saying’ for good measure.”     “You think that will work?”     “Well it’s worth a shot, you know what I’m saying?”

Once we get to the second half though, we find out what this movie is really about which is failure and setbacks.  Adonis’s life has had its ups and downs, but his journey has always been about proving himself and moving forward.  Heck, even his loss at the end of the last movie was in and of itself a victory for him as a person considering that, like Rocky in the very first film, he went the distance when no one was really expecting him to.  However, at this point in his life he’s not reaching upwards for greater glory; he’s reached what could reasonably be considered the pinnacle of his career.  He’s faced with no longer trying to GET what he wants, but not LOSING it, and honestly I really do relate to that kind of story.  I mean look at me, I write for my own website where no one has any expectations of what I put out and there’s no real risk if I write a post that’s truly awful; not that I could EVER do something like that, right!?  Responsibility is always scary, whether it’s a deadline that someone else expects you to keep or a title and legacy that you’ve worked your whole life to earn, and Adonis clearly wasn’t ready to handle that which is why he jumped at the first chance to find a NEW pinnacle to reach (a conclusion to his father’s story beyond just achieving his title) and why he simply shuts down when he is unequivocally stopped in his tracks.  This is why the second half really clicks together, because it’s about Adonis overcoming his fears and his failures in a realistic and relatable way, and sure the whole IDEA of a second fight kind of feels a tiny bit antithetical to the whole “accepting your loses and your faults” thing they’re building up, but you still want to see him succeed and it also means more time with the Dragos who embody this same idea as well but from a completely different angle.  For the life of me I can’t find the quote, but I once heard that Stallone had imagined Ivan Drago would have gone back to Russia after the fight as a disgrace and would eventually drink himself to death, and while they obviously didn’t quite go in that direction here, the idea behind that ending for him was clearly what they wanted to explore.  Like Adonis, he had a major defeat in his life that left him a broken mess, but his story is the one where he never got over it or understood what it means to be a failure in one thing but a good person in life.  This bitterness that has poisoned him for so long has spread to his son who similarly has a legacy he needs to live up to that he both resents his father for while also respecting him for what he’s had to go through.   Another quote I’m not sure about (this one I don’t even know who it’s from) is that a boxing movie is about everything except the boxing which has always held true about the Rocky movies and is very much the case in this film.

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“How are you feeling?”     “I don’t know.  You think I can still throw an uppercut and a few jabs?”     “Probably not right now.”     “Well I guess I don’t feel too good right now.”

In fact, if there’s one thing that I can criticize this movie for outside of its SOMEWHAT wonky pacing in the first half, it’s that the Drago story line feels rather shortchanged.  Dolph Lundgren barely has any lines in the movie and is only on screen for maybe fifteen minutes, yet it’s a credit to his phenomenal skills as an actor that his story with his son is still as captivating as it is.  His son despite being built like a brick shit house is not some foolish brute who goes along with his father’s schemes the same way he went along with the government’s back in the eighties.  He’s torn between loving his father who raised him and made him the fighter he is today and a deep seated resentment for the people who made his father such a pariah in the first place.  They even bring a character back from Rocky IV to hit this story home, yet this person has maybe a SINGLE line in the whole movie, and it just feels like we’re seeing only a fraction of what this story could truly be given enough time to explore it.  The only time I got a bit misty eyed in this was something that Dolph Lundgren did right at the end of the fight.  It was a rather small gesture that only took a few seconds, but the emotional impact of it was completely off the charts.  Now imagine how much that would have worked MORE if they had gotten more time for their story.  Now that said, if this is all a build up to a Drago movie in the next few years then I am ALL for it and will probably forgive this one for not doing nearly enough with them, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  It also might be worth mentioning that this movie SLIGHTLY rewrites the ending of Rocky IV where there was some amount of mutual respect between the two fighters yet that seems to be missing here.  It’s nothing big and certainly not the biggest continuity issue in the franchise (did Rocky take acting lessons between two and three?), but it’s worth at least a mention for all the die hard Rocky fans out there.

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“Do you smell that?  It’s the smell… of victory!”     “I smell cheese steaks.”     “YES!  THE MEAL OF CHAMPIONS!!”

I’ve always loved the Rocky films and I loved the first Creed, so unless they were somehow gonna sink this all the way down to Rocky V’s level, there was almost no chance I wouldn’t like it; and honestly if it WAS Rocky V bad I probably still would have liked it a little bit.  The fact that they made a movie that’s MORE than just retreading the Rocky films (even if they do a fair amount of that here) is just icing on the cake and is enough to push this film from a movie I’d like to something I think is genuinely great.  I would definitely recommend checking this out at the theater if you have the chance since these movies are ALWAYS fun to watch on the big screen, especially once they get to the fight, and it’s worth encouraging franchises that do manage to not just stay this good but try to stay relevant as well which is more than I can say about… I don’t know, throw a rock and I’m sure you’ll find one.  The MummyTMNT?  Oh, remember when they made that TERRIBLE Power Rangers reboot!?

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