Movie Review : Creed II (2018)
* This review contains spoilers *
Movie sequels are almost never necessary. Some of them are enjoyable, but they’re almost always driven by financial imperatives. Characters who have already won us over will get people to fork 30$ for theater seats easier than characters we don’t know. It’s the path of least resistance for studio movies who struggle to let go of antiquated business practices. As much as I’d like to think myself above such vile marketing tactics, I totally ate it up and paid to see Creed II in theater, last Saturday. It is not a successful sequel. Whether you’re a fan of old Rocky movies or just a Ryan Coogler enthusiast, this movie is short on everything that made Creed endearing.
Creed II opens two years or so after Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan)’s defeat against Ricky Conlon. He’s on a six fights winning streak and wins the world heavyweight title against Danny Wheeler, who's played by none other than boxing immortal Andre Ward. But somewhere in Ukraine, Ivan Drago (schlock immortal Dolph Lundgren) is training his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to become his revenge on dirty American capitalists. The kid is a physical freak and he wants a piece of Adonis. If you didn’t already know, Ivan Drago beat Adonis’ father with his bare hands in a boxing ring, so that shit goes right to his head. Shenanigans ensue.
So, here’s what happened: Creed II was made without Ryan Coogler. MGM and New Line gave screenwriting duties to Sylvester Stallone, who basically rewrote Rocky IV beat for beat. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be a problem. But Rocky IV was awesome for a very zeitgeist-y reason: it was a shameless propaganda movie where good ol’ hardworking America triumphed over communism. Creed II shouldn’t be any more complicated than that: if Adonis symbolically beat Ivan Drago through beating the shit out of his son, hence avenging and surpassing his dead, estranged father all at once, it would’ve been great. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Creed II is a actually a decent sequel until it announces that Adonis will not fight Viktor once, but twice. This is about 45 minutes into the movie. That means he’ll (symbolically) experience defeat and death even, empathizing with his father in the process, which doesn’t make any sense because went into a coma and died after losing to Ivan. He did not feel anything except perhaps the agonizing pain of getting repeatedly punched in the face by a PED-enhanced Russian killing machine. And the sole purpose of that screenwriting contortion is to have Adonis being both the Apollo and Rocky of his own Rocky IV, both succumbing to and triumphing over the big bad Russian monster *.
Also, since I’m stickler for boxing movies, let’s highlight every way Creed II one ups Rocky IV in terms of ridiculousness and broke my suspension of disbelief worse than Viktor broke Adonis’ ribs.
1) You can’t fight with broken ribs. You can’t even breathe right with them, let alone win not one, but two boxing matches. That’s right. Adonis gets his ribs broken TWO TIMES.
2) I would’ve liked Adonis to be moderately confident. I mean, high-level boxers are overachievers. A world champion wouldn’t be a world champion if he didn’t believe he could beat anybody.
3) Creed II goes way overboard with the knockdowns. One is a dramatic event in any boxing match because it influences the scorecard. I know this is supposed to be a movie, but four knockdowns AND broken ribs is ground for the referee to stop a fight, not for Adonis to resurrect in the ring.
4) Once Adonis got beat up the first time, I knew exactly what was going to happen: he’d retreat inside himself and have a moment of doubt, then Rocky would come back and there would be an inspiring montage, which would not serve any purpose because Adonis would flirt with death again while fighting Viktor on his turf. When I say this movie is like Rocky IV, I mean that it is its hollow shell.
5) The tire scene was based on this clip, which was largely made fun of by professional boxers. This shit is broken ribs/concussion city.
Let’s stop here, you get the gist.
Creed II was a bitter disappointment to me. I loved Creed when it came out because it took iconic characters somewhere new and explained the cruel reality of boxing in a profound and relatable manner. It’s a great sport, but it’s a fucked up way to make a living. Creed II is so obsessed with past rivalries that it forgot what it was about. It’s a retelling of Rocky IV without the political stakes, which muddles the stakes for Adonis at the same time. I mean, it wasn’t that hard: all that had to happen was for Adonis to struggle more with his father’s death than with Viktor’s fists.
Ironically enough, the only characters who had political stakes in this movie were Ivan and Viktor, who I ended up empathizing with more than I did with Adonis and Rocky. It would’ve been clearly better if they were the protagonists.
* Except there’s no political subtext whatsoever here. Ivan and Viktor have been rejected by their country and their socialite wife/mother Brigitte Nielsen and have absolutely nothing to lose, but each other. They are low-key the protagonists of Creed II.