Flanked by subjective responsibilities and preparing for his next boxing match, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), has fighting in his DNA, but is in opposition to the most prevalent throwdown of his lifetime. Confronting an adversary with connections to his father’s dynasty only deepens his imminent threat in the match. Adonis Creed and his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his father’s challenger-turned-friend, encounter a mutual relic of a haunted past, while searching for the merit behind why they fight, and realizing that the most imperative aspect of life is loving your family.
Creed II (2018) is the sequel to Rocky IV (1985). It’s a bizarre idea to fathom, and a rarity, for a follow-up film to continue a storyline from the fourth installment of the celebrated Rocky saga, where Rocky Balboa flew to Moscow, Russia to seek vengeance for the death of his friend, Apollo Creed, at the hands of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Creed II opens boldly with a sequence that takes place in Kyiv, Ukraine – the former Soviet Union and present-day home of Ivan Drago. The weighty nature is set within the third-world atmosphere as we see newspaper cutouts of a young Ivan Drago taped on the wall of a small, rundown apartment. Next to the cutouts are framed photographs of Drago’s ex-wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) with her baby boy Viktor. A fully-grown, beastly Viktor (Florian Munteanu) lays asleep on the couch until he is awakened by the fist of his father, Ivan, pounding his chest. Viktor Drago is a modern-day, prize fighting warrior in Ukraine’s boxing world. With the legendary Ivan Drago in his corner, Viktor is pushed against his will to make up for the sins of his father.
Director Steven Caple Jr. does an incredible job of making the intensity of the situations known to the audience. When Bianca (Tessa Thompson) walks through an alley in the Las Vegas arena, she wears her hearing aid to listen to the overwhelming sound of the sold-out crowd stomping and cheering. The camera follows Bianca in one-take to the backroom, where photographers flash cameras at Adonis Creed warming-up. Boxing analyst Max Kellerman is on the TV screen in the background. This sequence feels authentic and when Rocky Balboa makes his entrance into the room after everyone clears out, he creeps in from behind with a deep, protruding voice in his pep talk, and the camera spins in a 360-degree angle, revealing him in a glowing light. The musical score by Ludwig Goransson in this scene is spine-tingly good.
After Adonis gains the WBC Heavyweight Title, there’s a sensitive moment in the hotel hallway; a nostalgic shoutout to Rocky (1976) as Adonis seeks Balboa’s advice on how to propose for marriage. “Would you mind marrying me very much?” That’s the line Rocky Balboa said to Adrian (Talia Shire), being repeated again here to Adonis with nostalgia. Rocky tells Adonis, “Turn off your brain and let your heart do the talking.” Before Adonis splits with Rocky to head to the room for his proposal to Bianca, he turns around, shifting his entire focus on his “Unc” (uncle). “You Good?” Adonis asks Rocky. A defining moment that depicts Adonis’ character, showing how he cares just as much for an emotionally fragile Rocky, than his coming proposal to Bianca.
Boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby) convinces Ivan and Viktor to travel to Philadelphia to create the hype for “Creed vs. Drago” – a battle for the ages. In a grand moment, Ivan and Viktor stand atop the famed Philly steps, invading Rocky’s territory. “There’s no pictures of that.” Rocky says to Ivan, referring to their renowned fight back in 1985, in a brilliant conversation inside Rocky’s restaurant “Adrian’s”, named after his late wife. Adonis is hellbent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of Ivan, through fighting his son Viktor, but Rocky wants no part of the spectacle. “That guy broke things in me, ain’t never been fixed.” Rocky says to Adonis, referring to Drago. “He’s got nothing to lose. When a fighter ain’t got nothing to lose, he’s dangerous.” Rocky and Adonis split ways, and Adonis travels back to his hometown in Los Angeles to train with Little Duke (Wood Harris), the son of Duke (Tony Burton) – both Rocky and Apollo’s former trainer.
Creed II is endlessly exhilarating with phenomenal moments that solidify the characters of the Rocky universe with clout. There is a notable scene where the WBC Championship belt is held in Adonis’ arms, he flips it over and sees the panel of pictures: his father Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa are on it; this scene reminds the audience that in this universe, Apollo Creed is the equivalent of Muhammad Ali.
The training montages are excellent, and the transitions into them are second to none. Adonis trains underwater in a swimming pool, reminiscent of the real-life methods of Muhammad Ali. Except in Creed II, Muhammad Ali is Apollo Creed. Adonis’ loss to Viktor Drago in the second act is predictable – considering he won his first match against Danny Wheeler (Andre Ward) to gain the WBC title in the opening sequence of the film. For Adonis to win another fight in the second act wouldn’t set-up a motivating “all is lost” moment and “dark night of the soul” of the third act. But we roll with the punch, since it’s a little bit of Rocky III (1983) where Balboa lost brutally to Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and came back to avenge his loss in the film’s final act.
The film builds a great level of empathy for Viktor’s backstory as oppose to painting him as an arch-villain. When Viktor emotionally expresses himself over his feelings about his abandoning mother, Ludmilla, Ivan Drago’s heart opens up about taking accountability for his loss to Balboa in 1985 and the pain that came from losing the respect of the Russian masses, along with his wife ultimately leaving them as a family. Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan’s chemistry is genuine; it’s almost as if they’re a real couple. Michael B. Jordan delivers another amazing performance portraying the son of Apollo Creed. He’s in phenomenal shape, but also shows tremendous emotional range in the dramatic elements: lying bloody and beaten in a hospital bed, crying after his newborn is being checked for deafness, philosophical conversations with Rocky – Michael B. Jordan is paving a clear path for intense dramatic roles in the future.
Creed II is so much more than a film about boxing; it’s about generations of families with fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandchildren, deceased fathers and absent mothers, long-lost sons, and newborn grandchildren. Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson bring compassion and empathy to the film. Creed II tells a multifaceted story that shows how Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago’s legacy and rivalry takes a toll on their sons lives. The ending has three scenes beautifully intercut that represent the great depth of different relationships fathers can have with their sons. Rocky Balboa reunites with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) and finally meets his grandson. Viktor and Ivan Drago are seen running together as a team, as opposed to Ivan chasing him with a truck. Adonis visits Apollo Creed’s grave, introducing him to his newborn granddaughter. Creed II is a film about parenthood and the ramifications of a father’s life being passed down to his heir.
Though Adonis refers to him as “Uncle”, Rocky vicariously portrays himself as his surrogate father in Apollo’s absence – the son of his former best-friend. The Biblical and Shakespearean concept, “Sins of the Father”, is being depicted here as the underlying theme of the film. The phrase has appeared in the Books of Moses: Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and was also quoted by William Shakespeare in his play “The Merchant of Venice”. Ivan Drago uses his son Viktor as a vehicle to take vengeance on the world and regain his honor but comes to realize that he cares about the life of his son more than his legacy. Adonis Creed inherits the story of his father’s death and is determined to seek vengeance but learns to confront his haunted past and comes to peaceful terms with it. Rocky reunites with his son Robert after casting a shadow upon his sons life as the former Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Creed II does an incredible job of telling the meaningful stories of fathers and sons. It’s an emotionally sensitive film about compassion and salvation where the characters realize the greatest power in life is love.
Grade: 90% | A- | Excellent | 3 ½ Stars