Movie Review: "Creed II" (2018)
I don’t know how many of y’all were batshit bonkers for Rocky IV growing up, but I damn sure was. My brother and I watched that movie until the VHS fell apart. It’s the pinnacle of steroidal, Cold War-era American film making. It’s about as subtle as a hammer to the bridge of the nose (for the record: that’s a compliment). Whether or not that worked for you is all on you. Me? That shit was my workout soundtrack and my feel good movie. Judge me. I really don’t give a flying fuck. It’s Sylvester Stallone as a true auteur.
Naturally, when I saw the first tease for Creed II I minorly lost my shit. Adonis Creed vs. Viktor Drago??!! Stallone and Lundgren back together??!! Thank you, God! After all, the first Creed was such a welcome surprise, breathing life back into a franchise that was firmly closed. My sincere hope was that this sequel would be a torch passing on par with Andre the Giant vs Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III.
MISSION FUCKING ACCOMPLISHED.
Still, I tried to do what I always try to do as a critic and reign it in. I wanted to be by God professional. I walked into that theater determined to be unbiased. You won’t be swayed by the “imaginary” emotion of the revenge for the death of Apollo Creed, I told myself. It’s just a movie, right? I’d be the epitome of critical balance.
MISSION FUCKING FAILED.
It was a good effort. It lasted right up until the time that Rocky and Drago share the screen together for the first time. It takes place in Adrian’s, the restaurant that Rocky runs in Philly. It’s so quietly powerful in its presentation and so heavy in its tone that you just know you’re in for a very different film. There’s a quality to both of those men at this age (Stallone is now 72 years old, Dolph Lundgren is 61) that is hypnotizing. They both improve with time and now get to show you something you never saw in their younger years.
Here’s the thing, though: the script (written by both Stallone and Juel Taylor) maximizes the theme of fathers and their sons through the often damning lens of legacy. Viktor Drago (freakishly monstrous fighter Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) is born and bred to avenge his father’s loss and Russia’s shame; he’s hateful but also mistreated and used. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan; Black Panther) has finally stepped out of the giant shadow of his late father and mentor/trainer, Rocky Balboa. The thing both men have to truly fight is the weight of expectation and figuring out what they’re actually fighting for. It’s a tale as old as time itself.
Where it gets truly interesting is watching the development of Adonis as a man. His relationship with Bianca is front and center…not pushed to the back in an effort to make a “sports movie”. As a matter of fact, Creed II isn’t a sports movie at all. It’s a form of sequel to Rocky IV, yes, but it isn’t the burst of Anabolic Liquid America that its predecessor is (though there is a fantastic desert training montage and the final fight takes place in Russia).
In short, it’s a movie about finding out who you truly are as a person, a fighter, a husband, a father. It’s about knowing what you’re fighting for and not doing it for someone else’s reasons. It’s a movie that understands the true cultural significance of the original Rocky franchise and updates it wonderfully for this day and age. Black culture is loud and proud in Creed II, and I don’t think it’s overdone to say that Michael B. Jordan is rapidly becoming the new Denzel Washington. He hasn’t scratched the surface of how good he will be.
Adonis’ entrance in the Russia fight is pretty powerful. The James Brown entrance with “Living in America” for Apollo in Rocky IV is one of that movie’s most beloved scenes. This one will be remembered in much the same way. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say it’s righteously kick-ass stuff.
Creed II embraces the things that have worked so well throughout both series and brings nuance and real emotion while (admittedly) still turning up the volume a bit in true sequel fashion…it is still Sly Stallone, after all. Don’t act like you didn’t want callbacks, original cast, montages, and the ghost of Apollo.
Don’t even lie to yourself.