“Creed II” is the 2018 sequel to “Creed” starring Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Creed), Tessa Thompson (as Bianca), and Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. In addition, Dolph Lundgren reprises his role as 80s supervillain, Ivan Drago, the man who killed Apollo Creed, Adonis’s father, in Rocky IV. There’s also an appearance by Brigitte Nielsen whom I only know, regrettably, from VH1’s The Surreal Life.
The first half of “Creed II” was painful to watch. In place of Ryan Coogler’s well-executed and well-directed “Creed”, it’s obvious from the beginning that the sequel (without Coogler in the director’s chair) is a pale imitation.
Worse, the first half feels both fast and slow. To give the audience all the reasons to care about the fight at the heart of its plot, the film breezes through a bunch of personal things (Adonis proposing to Bianca, Bianca getting pregnant, Bianca’s advanced hearing loss, Adonis and Bianca moving out of Philadelphia, etc.) In the first film, these would’ve all felt monumental, but “Creed II” treats them like checklist that must be completed before people will care about Creed versus Drago II.
The fights also suffer, either from new direction or perhaps a change in budget. Each feels closer to what the Rocky series managed to do in the 1980s. Gone is the fight choreography and film from the first movie. With it, much of the weight and realism that made “Creed” standout are replaced by with the floaty physics of film (less than) magic.
The performances also take a hit. Though much of the film’s latter half redeems it, especially in terms of acting, Michael B. Jordan is far less impressive in this one. He has the physicality of the performance perfect, but his motives suffer from poor writing early on. I am still not 100% sure why he and Rocky have a falling out or why Adonis Creed felt he absolutely had to fight Ivan Drago’s son. It all felt forced.
Thankfully, the second half of the film, and the final fight (the film’s second between Creed and the Drago) go a long way to rehabilitate an otherwise forgettable sequel. Michael B. Jordan finally turns on his talent when he plays the beaten and battered Creed who won the first fight only technically. In addition, he must face a fear of not wanting to box again and his role as a new dad at the same time.
I found it important that Adonis and Bianca’s daughter was born with Bianca’s hearing loss. So often, movies, especially these kinds of movies, tend to gloss over the personal life or use it solely as a fuel for the film’s greater conflict. The couple knew that it was a risk their child could inherit Bianca’s hearing loss. Adonis struggles with the news at first, but the movie neither gets bogged down or ignores this struggle. Rocky, as the wise elder in these films, wakes him up to the truth that, no matter what, he will love the child. And, to be honest, that kind of messaging is important in films and adds valuable depth and honesty to what could’ve been a moment of suspense and an otherwise perfect baby born to two perfect-looking people.
With all that in mind, I was prepared to really hate this movie until its final fight. After “Creed”, “Creed II” felt like a wasted opportunity that rested too neatly on nostalgia for the most popular of all Rocky films. And that remained true until Ivan Drago, 80s supervillain and the sole reason why Russia lost the Cold War, threw in the towel to save his son who refused to stay down in a grueling fight with Adonis.
Whereas 80s villains were often one-dimensional, this was “Creed II” reaching back in time to add layers to the hated bad guy. It was awesome. It reminded me why I like modern films so much more: the attempt to humanize even our worst enemies. It is one of the biggest draws to sports anime as well. Anime like Hajime no Ippo or Yowamushi Pedal go to great lengths to introduce new villains as terrifying things to overcome, but after they are overcome or sometimes simultaneous to the overcoming, they are almost always given new life and dimension as the author actively seeks to tell their side of the story in a way that makes them appreciable as human beings and not just monsters.
Likewise, throwing in the towel makes certain the fact that “Creed II” should’ve been “Drago”. After being abandoned by his country and his wife, the elder Drago raises his son to be a boxer in relative obscurity and poverty. It’s only through a boxing promoter that they manage to get the fight with Creed and only Creed taking and failing to secure a true victory that puts Drago back in the good graces of high Russian society. It’s a heartbreaking story covered up by the red herring that Ivan Drago is still a monster when he just wanted his son to have what was wrongfully stolen from him.
Some of that may be projection, but so much of “Creed II” is better if you project or, even better yet, remix it. The emotional arch conclusions that come at the end of the film when Rocky finally meets his grandson and Adonis finally goes to see his father’s grave would’ve fit so much better in the middle of the film. Or, leave them at the end, but at the end of “Drago”.
“Creed II” was okay. That’s unfortunate because “Creed” was such a fantastic film and I genuinely looked forward to seeing the sequel. It could’ve been easily improved with restructuring and the adage about how often broken clocks are right probably applies in terms of how the Dragos were handled. Sadly, unless Coogler returns, I won’t be so interested in a probably “Creed III”.