‘Creed II’ essentially same film as ‘Rocky IV’
Creed surprised me upon its release, in that its premise seemed like the thinnest of narrative threads on which to tie in the alarmingly resilient “Rocky” franchise: Adonis Creed, son of the late Apollo Creed, works to get out of the shadow of his father, a heavyweight fighter he never knew.
But its ties to “Rocky” were a mere narrative starting point, with the film instead focusing on the relationship of Adonis (played by Michael B. Jordan) and his musician girlfriend (played by Tessa Thompson) and their struggles to use their respective talents to elevate them from their environments.
The ghosts of all things “Rocky” come muscling back into the ring in “Creed II,” though, which continues to tell Adonis’s story, but cannot help shoveling in copious call-backs to the popular-but-by-no-means-good “Rocky IV.”
I get it. As a young lad, I loved “Rocky IV” at the time, too. But looking back now, I recognize it was filled with paper-thin caricatures, stilted fight sequences, and hollow patriotism at its worst, which was perfect for my primitive teen brain. As an adult, I see it as a time capsule that is only appealing through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia. “Creed II” tries to amend some of the ills of “Rocky IV,” but it is essentially the same film (right down to the remote-location training montages, live musical numbers, and the appearance of Brigitte Nielsen). It even gives the Russian Concussion Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) another chance to utter a variation of his famous line “I must break you.” (C’mon, Ivan, it’s been three decades and you still haven’t come up with a new zinger?) And with all its reminiscing, it muddies the waters, focusing on far too many elements that never seem to culminate in a satisfactory climax.
While “Creed II” picks up right where the last film left off, the time covered here leapfrogs over days and months without warning. (Adonis proposes to Bianca, and just a few scenes later, she’s pregnant, and a few scenes after that she’s in her third trimester ... all without even a hint of time passing).
Meanwhile, in the ring, Adonis does not have long to enjoy his reign as champion, as he is taunted by one Viktor Drago (played by the mammoth Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan from “Rocky IV.”
By pulling this stale Cold War storyline out of the closet, we lose sight of Adonis’ own journey and the film becomes more of an excuse for Sylvester Stallone to get the old band back together. There are flashes of what life has been like for the Drago family since the 1985 defeat, and it’s honestly quite interesting, but they are just that: parading around like ring girls between rounds.
Gone is “Creed” director Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the last and has gone on to bigger and better things; he’s replaced by the untested Steven Caple Jr. Coogler took what could have been a rather tangential attempt to reboot a franchise and gave us perhaps the second-best “Rocky” film to date. This was in large part due to his screenplay that put its focus on character and emotion over in-the-ring action.
Here, Stallone again takes a co-writing credit, but looks to have more input than before. Like his “Expendables” franchise, he wastes a golden opportunity to relive glory days. There’s no doubt Munteanu cuts an imposing figure as the new Russian opponent, but he’s there only to scowl and sweat. There are glimpses of his life with dad back home (including the aforementioned Neilsen cameo), but they are hardly more than the cardboard cut-outs from the flag-waving “Rocky IV.” Even Rocky himself went from being battle-scarred, fallible and human in “Creed” to being a fountain of sage advice who is merely afraid to call his son. And while Jordan is always mesmerizing on screen, his character is undercut, reducing him back to an angry young man who wants to take on the world, negating any and all transformations he made in the first film. Let’s just hope in the inevitable sequel, Stallone does not feel the need to bring the grandson of Mr. T’s Clubber Lang into the equation, and instead lets Adonis create his own legacy that can stand on its own two nimble feet.