Dec. 3, 2018
Just as the films that followed the Oscar-nominated “Rocky” in 1976, “Creed II” is a story of a heroically stout fighter, played by actor Michael B. Jordan, who’s pitted against the odds and overcomes obstacles both in and outside the ring.
It’s a formula that’s worked throughout the 40-plus years since the birth of the series, which spawned “Creed” and its subsequent second film. And it’s one that continues to work.
Director Steven Caple Jr. proved he could command this magnitude of a film and evenly expound on the stories of iconic characters in a world filled with cinematic history. In the process, there was a shift in focus. Not only was Jordan’s character, Adonis “Donnie” Creed, tested on-screen but, with Caple Jr.’s direction, Jordan had one of the best acting performances of his career.
With eight films in the Rocky-verse, the arch of each installment in the long-lasting franchise has been done. The once struggling boxer is presented with a title fight, one he was expected to get demolished in by a more polished and championed opponent. He puts up a good fight, proves himself on the professional level and eventually wins the title for himself.
Then, after defending his belt, gets complacent, loses horrifically to an unexpected fighter, bottles up in emotion and fear, just to have a training montage where he regains the “eye of the tiger” and, once again, becomes a champion. “Creed II” harnesses the same direction but, with writer Cheo Hodari Coker at the helm, the film separates itself from previous installments in the movie series.
The film begins with Donnie seemingly running through the current heavyweight division while boxer, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Rocky VI’s Ivan Drago, is making a name for himself in Russia. Viktor’s emergence draws anticipation from boxing analysts and fans, who want to see the two fighters go head to head.
Stallone’s Rocky is reluctant to train Donnie for the match, as he experienced the death of his father, Apollo Creed, by the hands of Ivan Drago ringside. It’s a moment he grudgingly regrets to the day.
Adonis’ frustrations force him to train in Rocky’s absence, which leads to a one-sided defeat by Viktor, who hospitalizes the former champion for several days following the fight.
Rather than solely focus on Adonis avenging the death of his father, “Creed II” is a film centered on finding his own motivations as a boxer. Now that his life with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has blossomed into the birth of his daughter, Adonis is seeking to find the balance between his life on both sides of the ropes. Caple Jr. also highlights the life of Viktor, who isn’t narrowly pictured as an emotionless robot like his father during his fighting career.
Viktor shows as many signs of vulnerability as he does death-induced relentlessness and hatred. Viktor and his father seek their own source of vengeance. With his father’s loss to Rocky in 1985, Viktor was abandoned by his power-obsessed mother and his father was shamed by a country that once hailed him as its greatest hero. As a result, Ivan pushes his son in an effort to ensure they regain the lost prominence their names once held.
Caple Jr. brilliantly displays the two character’s sources of pain that spark their motivation to annihilate each other in the ring. “Creed II” also shows Adonis’ inner-will, which is comparative to the one his trainer and mentor embodied during his bloodied, death-defying exchanges in his prime.
Leading up to the two fighters’ final showdown, Caple Jr. shoots one of the best training montages in Rocky and Creed-lore, channeling all the inspirational elements that have sucked in long-lasting fans of the Rocky franchise.
Rather than train in state-of-the-art boxing facilities, Rocky takes Donnie to a place he says fighters go to regain themselves; to regenerate the former confidence and bravado they lost because of defeat or a loss of self. Adonis goes from the speed bags and canvas floors to the dirt roads and dust-filled air, bringing a breath of life to Jordan’s character and leading to a pursuit of self-redemption in one of the better fighting sequences in the series’ history.
Though the film was purposefully absent of “Creed” director, Ryan Coogler, and his one-shot scene, Caple Jr. crafted beautiful point-of-view shots that immersed viewers into the fight, which ended in unexpected fashion.
This moment was one that displayed Adonis’ inner fight. He fought not for defeat, but to rebuild. He refused to harp on the mistakes and actions his father made. Instead, he used this fight to establish his future as a father and, once again, as the heavyweight champion of the world.
By the end, Rocky himself acknowledged his shortcomings as a father and its long-lasting effects on his life. During the last scene of the film, Rocky walks to an apartment to have a man and child answer the door. Rocky welcomed them both, and the man at the door addressed him as the child’s grandfather. The final scene placed the film in full circle. “Creed II” encompasses many layers, many of which blend seamlessly and, ultimately, fortifies a great installment to the Rocky-Creed franchise.