‘Creed II’ is Drago’s Revenge [Review]
America’s all-time favorite underdog, Rocky Balboa is back in the ring with his Russian nemesis Ivan Drago, but this time both are in the corner of their respective younger proteges in Creed II, a highly emotion sequel about fatherhood, family, and redemption.
As much as 2015’s Creed was both a sequel and at the same time a reboot of the original 1976 Rocky, so to is Creed II a sequel to the previous film by way of a remix of the best parts of Rocky II, III, and especially 1985’s IV, in which Drago killed Apollo Creed in a tragic boxing match before his son, Adonis, was born. Rocky then defeated the Russian monster in an epic match in Russia, where Ivan Drago was quickly shunned by his countrymen following his unexpected loss to the American hero.
Now Adonis Creed is on top of the boxing world, with Rocky in his corner, and he’s about to marry the love of his life, Bianca, when Ivan’s son, Viktor Drago, appears to make a challenge that the overly prideful new champion can’t turn down, despite warnings from everyone in his life. As Adonis, Michael B. Jordan is at times too mouthy and cocky, but then his dad, the late great boxing legend Apollo Creed, was also at times a bit too mouthy and cocky for his own good too. On the other hand, when he gets hit, it really looks like Jordan is in serious pain and agony.
And the point of this movie, as with all the Rocky films, is for a stubbornly driven, imperfect guy to do what’s impossible for some and actually learn from his mistakes, and of course to realize that he’s nothing without the support of his soulmate and true love. In this case that’s Tessa Thompson’s Bianca, a soulful singer who is slowly going deaf, and when she and Adonis find out they’re expecting a baby, she fears it will be born with hereditary hearing impairment. The whole hearing loss subplot is an added level of realism that keeps the almost mythic journey of Adonis firmly grounded in the real world.
After 40 years of playing this character that he created, Sylvester Stallone wears Rocky Balboa with an effortless believability that few actors ever achieve. Rocky is a pop culture icon, in the film but even more so in real life, and we feel like we’ve known him forever, because we have. As with all of the Rocky movies, there are plenty of poignant and timeless words of wisdom coached, and as in Creed, it’s Stallone, as the seasoned mentor, who now gets to deliver the best lines.
Reprising his role from Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren gives the best performance of his career as a haunting, aged (but still terrifying) Ivan Drago, exiled from his home in Moscow to the cold backstreets of the Ukraine. It’s here that he’s been patiently building his son, Viktor, into the ultimate offensive fighter, waiting, as if it’s destiny at work, for the young Creed to rise as champion, to present to the world an athletic competition that no promoter and no network could ever say no to. It’s a destiny that will cement his son’s legacy with one fight, but more importantly, it will rewrite his own story’s ending.
Drago’s initial reunion with Balboa comes earlier in the film than I expected, a quiet, intimate scene between two real life friends at the absolute height of their acting game, each channeling the one character that has defined them for their entire careers. If you grew up with the Rocky movies, and saw Rocky IV in a theater in 1985 like I did, this scene will give you chills in all the best ways.
As the menacing Viktor Drago, Florian Munteanu is perfectly intimidating and seemingly unstoppable. Like Ivan in Rocky IV, Viktor doesn’t say much, but when he does speak, it carries huge weight. There is a scene late in the film between Ivan and Viktor that punched me so hard it brought tears to my eyes.
The Dragos’ story is actually my favorite part of Creed II, echoing the overall theme of fathers and sons, and it brilliantly mirrors and intersects with that of Adonis’s own father issues as he himself learns that he’s about to be one, and even Rocky’s relationship with his son, which was strained when we last saw them speak in 2006’s Rocky Balboa.
There are a ton of Easter egg references to the previous films, like when Bianca is seated ringside wearing an almost identical outfit to the one Rocky’s beloved Adrian wore in the original film. And there are some brief but powerful surprise cameo appearances that I won’t spoil here, but fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate them.
The Rocky films are among the greatest sports movies of all time, but the truth is they have never really been about boxing. They’re about never giving up in the fight that his life, accepting that you are always the challenger and the underdog, and the goal is not to win but to go the distance, to believe that you are good enough to last toe to toe with the best. As the eighth film in a franchise defined by overcoming the odds, Creed II delivers another satisfying knockout, packed with heart and inspiration that would make Apollo proud.
It’s time to get back in the ring for one more round.
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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Creed II (rated PG13) is playing locally at RC Theatres in Kill Devil Hills.
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