Rematches are the ultimate sequel. How many times has Sherlock traded wits with Moriarty, Batman vs The Joker, Magneto squaring off with the X-Men? The familiarity of continuing foes can create blistering drama and tension so electric it could power a small burg in Vegas for a month. So thanks to that minor cinematic miracle a couple of years back we know collectively as Creed (the movie, not the band – although My Sacrifice rocks) we now have an emotion soaked rematch for the ages. Creed vs Drago part deux.
Anyone up on their Rocky-lore knows this history well: during the magnificently cartoonish Rocky IV, ex-champion and Rocky Balboa’s best mate, Apollo Creed, was left-crossed into the afterlife by hulking Soviet brick shit house Ivan Drago. Rocky subsequently stepped into to the ring to claim revenge and got it, but with an unfortunate side-helping of brain damage for his troubles. Jumping ahead to Ryan Coogler’s freakishly good Creed, Adonis, Apollo’s angry illegitimate son seeks out an aged lonely Balboa to help him train for the ring in order to forfill his legacy.
I only bring this all up, because the more familiar you are with the back story of the whole Creed/Rocky franchise you are, the greater your enjoyment of Creed II will be. It’s by no means essential but a full working knowledge of previous events means you already know of the history that connects the main players which causes distinct nervous excitement and a distinct sweating of the palms before the film even starts.
Adonis has reached the top of the mountain: he’s won the heavyweight championship of the world and proposed to his girlfriend Bianca and the world truly seems to be his boxing ring shaped oyster but he is torn in his decision to leave Philadelphia as his mentor/father figure Rocky isn’t the kind to move away – making him the only old, white American dude who WON’T be retiring in Florida. Knowing that he’d be all alone if he goes, Adonis attention is caught by a surprise challenger in the mountainous shape of Victor Drago, a punching machine who is being used by his father, Ivan, to vicariously obtain former glory. However thanks to the wreckage left in the wake of the original grudge match Rocky wants no part in the fight claiming that young Creed has nothing to prove. As “Donny’s” old anger and pride resurfaces and a rift starts to form between the two men, he steps into the ring, unprepared to go toe to toe with this big red uppercut machine in the grudge match of his life.
As it goes, Creed II suffers a tad from a missing something, and that something is Ryan Coogler. Sticking fiercely to series continuity and yet forging something defiantly new and personal, Coogler’s sense of balance elevated the potentially hokey material into something phenomenal, Creed II (co-written by Stallone himself) simply isn’t so nimble, content to mirror the story beats of Rocky III. However, once the many lectures and speeches Adonis has to weather concerning why exactly he shouldn’t fight this Russian door-to-door pain salesman dries up, the sequel hits it’s groove and that manly lump in the throat starts to form.
The actors are all on point here. Michael B. Jordan still makes the angry (and sometimes entitled) Adonis likeable and vulnerable whereas Stallone pumps out more noble loneliness in his loveable old pug. Tessa Thompson overcomes her character being reduced to “the wife” role in a Rocky movie but it’s the surprising amount of screen time the Drago’s have that make the difference. Villains in a Rocky movie are usually underwritten, thugs in waiting to the throne. Anyone remember anything special about Tommy Gunn (besides the mullet), or Mason Dixon? Here Lundgren’s Ivan Drago has a goal, ostracized from the Russian sports community he is desperate to curry favour with his ex-peers and ex-wife (cameo alert!) and get back the former glory to his name via his monster son. Victor Drago DOES however fall prey to the lack of personality curse but is still intimidating enough that even a surly glare would look enough to spontaneously rupture a kidney.
And then it’s seconds out, round one, the fighters start throwing bombs and nothing else matters as the familiar thrill of a climatic Rocky-verse boxing match lights up your brain like the Las Vegas strip. It’s all here, hamburger eyes, busted ribs, impassioned pleas to battered loved ones to “GET OUT OF THE CORNER!!” and it’s as familiar and glorious as it’s always been and you can’t help but feel that pulse quicken and the man-tears build as Adonis works to earn not only his father’s legacy but, most impressively of all, Rocky’s theme music.
So while it doesn’t quite match up to the artistic heights of it’s predecessor (and in this genre, not much does to be fair) Creed II is a still contender that definitely goes the distance.