“Creed II” Fights with Heart
The eighth film in the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed II” is perfectly summarized by a single powerful, emotionally evocative shot. Tortured by his last defeat and scrambling to find a way to get his newborn daughter to stop crying, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) takes her to the gym. There, as Adonis holds his baby girl with affection, cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) frames them below the prominently displayed portrait of Adonis’ father, former heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, who’s there in spirit. Father, son, and granddaughter, three generations of Creeds in one defining image that drives into the heart of what “Creed II” is all about: legacy.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr., “Creed II” is an examination — no, an exhibition match of legacy, an all out brawl of past versus present! Almost every single character in the film is driven, guilted, or burdened in some way by their past. This includes: Adonis, who is drawn to fighting a similar match to the one that got his father killed; his fiancé, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who now has a successful career as a musician, but is anxious that her daughter might suffer from the same hearing condition that has troubled her; his trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who is worried about his nonexistent relationship with his son and feels guilty for not throwing in the towel when, in his eyes, he could have saved Apollo’s life; Rocky’s former opponent, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who lost almost everything after his defeat to “The Italian Stallion” and is now training his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), to win at any cost.
Naturally, Jordan, Thompson, and Stallone carry the drama well, but a wonderful surprise here is Lundgren. A celebrated villain, Ivan Drago is remembered for his brute force and merciless one-liners (“I will break you!”). This time, however, Drago is given some inner flesh to go with his outer muscle. With more meaningful dialogue, Drago’s words say so much more, his eyes say so much more, and because of that, he feels so much more like a human being with actual thoughts, fears, and concerns. By the end of the film, you’ll remember him more as a flesh and blood person than as the caricature he once was.
The “Creed” films continue to honor the legacy of the “Rocky” franchise by showing that drama is not only more important than the climactic boxing match, it’s what drives it. It’s what makes you root for the characters. It’s what makes you care. That’s what made Balboa’s resilience so powerful in the first two “Rocky” films and the same can be said for Adonis Creed.
Whenever the “Rocky” films would become more about the fight than the characters, I would always check out. If there’s nothing more at stake than character needing to win, there’s no drama and it feels meaningless. That’s because the best of these films aren’t solely about the fight in the ring. They’re about the fight in our hearts.
I rarely cheer during a sports movies. But I cheered here. “Creed II” sparked a fire inside me. Every hit Adonis takes, every punch he dishes out, I felt my heart pounding. When he pounds the ground and keeps going, my soul moved in ways only the best movie experiences can inspire. I may have even teared up a little.
This film moved me, dammit.