Creed 2 review: A traditional crowd pleaser with Style, Substance and a heartbeat (some spoilers)

Warning: This Review will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

When I first heard that the sequel to Ryan Coogler’s Creed involved a story concerning Ivan Drago, the events of Rocky 4, I cant deny I felt a twinge of disappointment in the direction I thought  the series was taking. I thought Adonis Creed’s story should be his own, and the efforts to step out of his legendary mythical father’s shadow ( Stallone had a knack with names; he was named ‘Apollo’ for a reason) and build his own legacy seemed stunted by having to go back and revisit his fathers and Rocky’s past yet again. However, after seeing as to how they executed the material in Creed 2 , not only am I happy to say I was proven wrong, I understand why they had to revisit it and how it works into the context of the themes, which is resolving your past in order to move forward.

Structurally speaking this movie mostly draws its inspiration from Rocky 3, in that Adonis meets with great success , faces an overwhelming challenger he is not prepared for and has to star deep into his soul face his insecurities and change and adapts the way he trains and fights physically as well as emotionally to overcome the odds. Michael B. Jordan does this with an incredible amount of nuance for a young actor, he digs very deep in the physical challenges Adonis is put through as well as the emotional and spiritual ones. There are elements of Rocky 2 and 4 that serve the themes of the movie as well I see them more as hero cycle -ish sort of things though, as in the second fight being in Russia and what not.

So Basically the movie starts with Adonis finally becoming a champion and the success that goes with it, and juxtaposing it with catching up with the Drago family. Ivan is divorced with a young son living in Kiev, in relative poverty having lost everything thirty years ago when he lost a fight to Rocky . The kid has followed in his fathers footsteps and is basically a forged ball of rage, the product of his father own obsession with a loss he never came to terms with and his country and wife abandoning him. The kid is noticed by a promoter and they come to the states to issue a challenge to Adonis and in Ivans perception to Balboa as well. Reclaiming glory and being accepted as you see is more Ivan’s ambition than his son’s who, played by beastly MMA fighter Florian Montenau, has very little to say but slowly begins to see the big picture around him, you can read what the kid is thinking by his facial expression as  events seem to just happen to him, he is very much like an angry pit bull, wanting his fathers ( and mothers) approval without knowing why he does what he does. That’s important because it directly juxtaposes Adonis’ conflict.

So despite Rocky’s discouragement Adonis accepts the challenge, thinking he’s doing this to sort of avenge his own father, whom he never knew and couldn’t possibly understand the guilt Rocky lives with not throwing in the towel. Rocky knows more instinctively than he can articulate Adonis is taking this fight for all the wrong reasons and wont train him for it. He knows Adonis isn’t ready to lose at this level, its all very much similar to what Rocky faced as a man in Rocky 3. Adonis hooks up with the son of his fathers trainer Tony Burton jr, and guess what …(major spoiler in 3..2..1..) He gets his ass kicked but technically doesn’t lose the fight. Viktor ( another aptly named Stallone character *victor*?) hits him while hes down and gets a DQ… but the point was made. Those crazy Dragos smelled fear and blood wanted to make a point and did.

Now throughout this up to this point, Adonis had gotten married to his long time girlfriend Bianca, who is also pregnant with his daughter. The obsession with Viktor and somehow righting a wrong done 32 years through the sons clouded his mind and sort made him not see what he should be motivated to fight for: the family he has right in front of him. And they will face challenges, as Rocky tells him , in life that he may not be prepared for , like the possibility of the baby being born deaf and staying that way, like her mother.  Adonis ( and his wife and daughter) are fighters he is a born fighter, that’s all he can do. He is also a father and a husband now and wants to be the best he can be for them as well, and this is where he finds himself. This is where he finds the foundation to rekindle his warrior spirit  not in trying to live up to the Creed name which is what he thought he had to do.

Discovering this and Rocky seeing he’s found his heart , trains him with the help of Tony Jr in the desert under the most grueling conditions with methods designed to help him adapt to Viktors overwhelming style…. again very akin to how Apollo helped Rocky adapt to Clubber Lang. Adonis almost has to go into his own heart of darkness , which is a place Viktor and dad have been living in but their own hatred( again they dirt poor , Viktor works construction and Ivan pushes him in training without mercy, like a trained dog and not a son) and Ivan’s inability to see that he’s just using his son to reclaim what he’s lost inhibits them from seeing they’re about to make the same mistake twice. Viktor begins to mentally break upon seeing his mother, played again by Brigette Nielsen at a dinner for the Dragos and their success. This is someone who left his father when he was too young to remember, clearly shes driven by wealth and success and views her ex as a loser. I think somewhere Ivan actually thinks his son’s legit victory over Adonis the second time will bring her back and heal the family he lost….notice a theme running here.

So I think we all know how this works out. A nice touch to the finale was returning to Russia for it and a good old rocky esque war in the ring, having again as much in common with Rocky 3 as with Rocky 4 , but with a few very good twists and revelations. Now if you’ve been following this series, Adonis’s wife is a singer, she meets with great success and gets signed in this sequel and actually sings Adonis entrance theme live in Russia. I nice touch reminding me of the Creed family’s knack for flair and show. Obviously Adonis wins, but despite my other spoilers I’m not gonna reveal how Adonis wins, I thought it was quite ironic , original and could not be done in  Rocky 4. Lets just say Ivan does love his son and is proud of him.

Technically Ive read reviews with complaints comparing the fight scenes to the first creed which were mind bending . I don’t expect every movie to look the same but I liked the boxing sequences ( again there are several) in both Creed movies: you felt the impact and the very real threat of Viktor Drago in these movies while still adhereing to the fundamentals of the sweet science at least on a level enough to tell the story happening in the ring. This was something you saw in the first Rocky and maybe in the presentation of Rocky Balboa , the last of the old Rocky movies, but for the most part the boxing choreography was pulpish unrealistic, superficial cinematic representation of the drama that occurs in the sport rather than the sort of hyper realism  its evolved to.

Rocky 4, for example. The tactics amount to “right , hit the one in the middle” to Creed 2, where Rocky coaches Adonis on how Viktor overthrows that long right of his leaving his body open for a nice crack and to take advantage of it. You just didn’t have that sort of technical thing in the old Rocky movies and that’s fine , a different era of movies and so on.

There is a strong underlying theme of the purpose of the family structure and how it gives a purpose to the players involved. Rockys main subplot, aside reconciling his guilt over his friend Apollo, is his unresolved issues with his own son. This mustve been something that occurred after the events of Rocky Balboa and the first Creed, as things seems good at the end of Balboa between them. By the time the first Creed hit, Robert ( Milo Ventimiglia does return briefly here as Rocky’s son) had a family moved away, which plotwise helped Balboa’s subplot of finally being alone and Adonis being a sort of surrogate son in the firs tmovie. Rocky , in this movie, despite beating cancer and all the wars in the ring is afraid to call his son and see his grandson because of all the years that passed that they didn’t stay in touch, maybe because he felt he cast that large shadow , im not sure actually. But there is his unresolved “sins of the father issue”

Adonis , as I stated before, finally has to come to grips with his fathers legacy, his choices and how he moves forward as a man. He realizes he is a fighter and he has a strong structure now to fight for in his supportive and independent wife and daughter, motivation to pass on those values he’s learned the past two movies. He had to learn to dig deeper , something many strong men fail to do they run the risk of losing everything, and realizing this, he comes to an understanding of himself , the kind of man his father was too and that only he can shape his destiny with those he loves and who love him.

And finally the crazy Dragos. Ivan was on top of the world when he lost and you get the impression he’d sell his own soul to get back what was taken from him that Adonis has now and Rocky regained: his family, his structure and his heart. He thinks he can do this by reclaiming old glory through that monster of energy Viktor, not realizing the only thing he is passing on to his son is his own hatred. Bitterness and hatred is the only thing Ivan has truly given to his son, hatred of how his life went and of himself, and during the final training montage begins to slightly become aware of this fact as his son begins to direct all of that hate towards him. As you’ll see if you go see this, Ivan I believe does come to the realization in time and his actions give another layer of depth his character never had nor do I think intended to have, probably saving his sons soul in the process.

So there’s a lot going on for a mid fall thanksgiving crowd pleaser, more than what might meet the eye, but I think this movie wears its heart on it’s sleeve, which most of the Rocky movies did in the past. The acting is solid, with nuanced performances from its main cast , and the direction is so good even the secondary, less talented performers ( the five minutes of Nielsen you see in this ,she’s perfect for what she has to do here, which is upset papa and jr Drago) know exactly what is required to serve the narrative of the story. Dolph Lundgren plays the part of a broken man trying to maintain that icy resolve but the years and the anger cant help but take its toll, and while Florian Montaneau has probably less than twenty lines of dialog ( and mostly in Russian) the minimalist approach makes the appropriate impact.

And Stallone is and always will be Rocky. The street wit and philosophy, the sentimentality and understanding, there can never be another. And yet I finally feel Rocky’s journey ( the last scene in the movie ) is over he finds where his heart belongs and this can now fully be Adonis Creed’s saga. Rocky is not needed in the next movie nor should he be in it unless its a minor phone call /text sort of cameo. If they want to make his presence felt and add a bit of narrative weight to Creed 3 maybe open the movie with Rocky’s funeral, though I don’t think its necessary to do that. Rocky tells Adonis, ” It’s your time now” and  sits out the victory spectacle, which is very telling of where Stallone is at. I understand Rambo is next…

My main critique of the film is you get a sense of Adonis’s pain and doubt because of Jordan’s very emotional performance, that said I do feel it felt a bit brisk and rushed ( though all the major plot points, like vacating the title, avoiding  the nature of the injuries he suffered etc ,were covered this felt the most copy and paste) and you basically know what’s going to happen in this movie, you’ve seen the structure before. Its how it happens and the layers its told in is what makes this movie at least as consistent with the first Creed. I also think Tessa Thompsons career is understated, how their schedules may conflict in the futre films may make a good plot point I thought I’d see more of that here, but the main point was the importance of structure and what’s worth fighting for, the past or the future.

Any how, the film looks slick, you have solid performances, there’s definitely substance there despite what anyone believes too, and I hope I’ve hope I managed to illuminate that here. And even if you don’t wanna dig that deep into it, theres still an entertaining crowd pleaser with familiar beats , yet told very stylishly. Hope you see it and those who do by all means leave comments and thought

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Citizen G

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