These “Creed” movies get it. They understand what was so endearing about the “Rocky” franchise and in many ways, they expound on well-known storylines giving them a richness and depth that even the previous Rocky movies couldn’t portray.
“Creed II” is an intimate movie. Sure, it has its training montages and its big, glorious boxing matches, but the real worth of this film is how it treats these beloved characters.
Here a ghost from Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) past has come back to haunt him. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) has a monstrous son. He looks every bit the fighter his dad was. Now the Dragos want another shot at the Creeds.
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is on the top of the world. He’s just won the heavyweight title and he’s about to marry the love of his life, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But, like his father Apollo, Adonis’ downfall is his pride. Once the Dragos issue the challenge Adonis feels as if he doesn’t have a choice. He does, but he’s too prideful to realize that.
It’s impressive how much lush characterization we get here. This isn’t just a boxing movie. Instead the boxing is simply a vehicle in which to smash all these characters together. There are so many quietly profound moments in this film I lost count.
Rocky sitting and talking to Adrian’s gravestone. The pained looks Rocky gives Adonis when he tells him that he won’t be in his corner if he takes the Drago fight. “That man,” Rocky says of Ivan, “he broke things in me that night that ain’t never been fixed.”
There are so many more contemplative moments where all the pain and hurt these characters feel is visible in their faces, in their demeanor, and in their choices.
It would’ve been so easy to approach this as a big-budget Hollywood boxing movie and forget about the rest. Thankfully, that’s not the path director Steven Caple Jr. and writer Cheo Hodari Coker decided to take.
We even get a fuller picture of what life was like for Ivan after losing to Rocky in ’85. Russia completely forgot about him. Tossed him to the side. He lived his life in squalor. His wife left him. His son grew up with nothing but hate. We only get a few scenes with them, but the way those scenes lay out the family dynamics of the Dragos is masterful. They aren’t just autonomous Russian robots. They’re humans.
“Creed II” is missing the technical skill of filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Steven Caple Jr.’s eye just isn’t as keen or as honed as Coogler’s was. The fight scenes in “Creed” are legendary.
The fight scenes here just don’t have the same technical prowess to make them memorable. That’s the only misstep in what is a stupendous film otherwise.
It feels as if the Creed movies understand the Rocky franchise even better than some of the Rocky films did. The way they explore these characters and their lives is beautiful. This isn’t just a cheap attempt at cashing in on a known cinematic property. These films add layers of emotion and humanity to characters we already know and love.