Director: Stephen Caple Jr.
Screenwriters: Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
I think the Creed movies are to the Rocky Movies what the Craig-era Bond films are to the Moore-era. They’ve ditched the indestructible hero for a more realistic approach. You would never have seen Rocky pissing blood after one of his fights, but that’s a scene we get in the latest outing for Adonis Creed.
This time he’s facing the son of, arguably, Rocky’s most memorable opponent Ivan ‘The Russian’ Drago. Viktor Drago has been living and training with his father his whole life, preparing for the day when he would get his chance for revenge. Drago senior’s defeat by Balboa disgraced the family, leading to their exile from Moscow and eventually the break-up of his marriage, so Viktor has a huge axe to grind with the man in Adonis Creed’s corner. Creed has plenty of emotional baggage as well, squaring up to the son of the man who killed his father in the ring, and all-credit to Michael B. Jordan we feel that angst every time he’s on screen. Bringing back an old foe is a gimmick that might stretch credibility for some people, but the boxing game is a lot like the movie business; if there’s a hook to market it on that will get bums on seats and make big bucks, they’re happy to back it.
Structurally speaking we’re in Rocky II territory here. It’s the chapter where marriage and babies (and complicated pregnancies) are addressed, and the fighter has to weigh up his responsibilities as a husband and father against his career. Jordan is terrific in the lead role. You can see the pain behind his eyes as he tries to cope with conflicting emotions this challenge has stirred up. Much as I love the original Rocky films (except V of course), I don’t think they ever had characters with such emotional depth, and this isn’t just confined to the good guys. Drago is far from a two-dimensional baddie, with both he and his father having their own, well thought out and satisfying character arcs.
The formula of the Rocky movies is still there if you look. Success – defeat – training – rematch, but these are much more grown up films than their predecessors. The Rocky movies sometimes felt like they whizzed through the downtime just to get to another training montage or fight, but the Creed movies don’t mind giving extended screen-time to personal issues and home life and this helps us connect more with the characters. The training montages look less like MTV music videos and more like sweat, pain and hard work. I suppose my only gripe is that they’re now using awful rap music (I consider all rap music awful) to soundtrack these films instead of classic eighties rock, but I suppose we can’t have everything.
The fights are expertly choreographed and exciting, as usual, and I have to commend them for finding a way to give us two fights with the young Russian without resorting to the cliché of losing the title and wanting a rematch. There are also a couple of nice cameos from previous Rocky movies with Brigitte Nielsen returning as Ludmilla Drago and Milo Ventimiglia as Rocky’s estranged son Robert.
Creed II builds on an incredibly strong first movie and gives us something with more depth and weight, and though there are plenty of echoes of the Rocky movies – ‘I don’t think you can win, so I can’t train you’ – these films have their own identity with well-rounded characters and original twists to the fights, and never feel like an obvious retread.
Now the big question is will Creed III have Adonis fight the son of Clubber Lang? I pity the fool who wouldn’t want to see that!