Creed 2 may be a sequel to Creed, which itself is sort of a reboot of the Rocky franchise. But Rocky II began a steep drop-off of the heart and emotion that made the first an instant classic and by Rocky III it was little more than a fight movie franchise. Creed 2 remembers what made the original installment (or 6th installment if you view it as a rebranded Rocky) so amazing.
This continues to be a story focused on relationships. Adonis “Donnie” Creed and Rocky. Adonis and Bianca. Adonis and his stepmom, Mary Anne. Everybody and ghosts from the past.
This film is almost a direct sequel from Rocky IV. By that time, the franchise was merely a shameless moneymaker, with a side gig of reminding us how awesome James Brown is. While the characters are looking for redemption, the film also offers redemption for its original source material.
This time around, Adonis is finally champion, but just as he’s emerging from his father’s long shadow, a
cash grab conspiracy, long in the making, emerges to dredge up more ghosts than in a haunted house. Ivan Drago, with Dolph Lundgren reprising his role, is training his son to break Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis. Killing Apollo clearly wasn’t enough. Russians. Whatcha gonna do?
It turns out Ivan lost everything after losing to Rocky in Moscow. From his wife to his status to his lifestyle, everything was taken from him. So he raises his son to redeem himself and his family, and lure his ex back, with Brigitte Nielsen silently reprising her role.
Meanwhile Rocky deals with his decision to not stop the fight 33 years ago where his friend died in his arms. Adonis reflects on what the confrontation will mean to his legacy and that of his dad, while Mary Anne must face the possibility she’ll lose a husband and a son to the same family in the name of bloodsport.
This film lays out the dichotomy of how the fights of the 80s left Apollo to grow up without a dad and Viktor Drago to grow up without a mom, but doesn’t explore the idea. I’m not sure how they would, it’s not like there’s ever an opportunity to sit down and throw back a few shots of Stolichnaya. This film delivers on so many levels, yet this still feels like an opportunity missed.
A Fighting Chance
The key relationships are all explored and expanded in this film. Apollo sweetly, and hilariously, proposes to Bianca. And Tessa’s heartbreaking yet inspiring portrayal of Bianca’s journey through love, marriage, pregnancy, and career is amazing. Given her strong performance in Sorry To Bother You, it can easily be said she is having a career year.
Sylvester Stallone turns Rocky into a thoughtful, introspective man as he grows his relationship with Apollo. As he revisits regrets he tries to guide Creed by not training him, but eventually agreeing even though it means revisiting a mental pain greater than any he ever suffered in the ring. He seems to be paying tribute to Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, if Mickey were a corner man in the more emotionally vulnerable 21st century.
Apollo’s most transformational relationship is the one with himself. He’s a champion but doesn’t feel it on the inside. He’s his own man, but feels controlled by his father’s ghost. He can’t be a strong father if he’s not strong in his career.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
While this film may slightly slide to the indulgent, fan-pleasing fight scenes, it doesn’t lose sight of what makes this franchise critically and commercially spectacular. Go see this in theaters, then rent it when it comes On-Demand, and then buy it on Blu-Ray in case your internet goes down.
That said, let’s hope they don’t decide to check in on Mister T’s Clubber Lang for Creed 3.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Stoli. Rocks. No Lime. We have a feeling the Drago family is going through several bottles a day with a vengeance.