Rocky IV, the fourth entry in the Rocky film series that started in 1976, was interesting for a lot of reasons, but good reviews weren’t one of them (they were mostly mixed).
Even so, other than the Cold War parallel (American versus Russian boxers), it birthed the bloodthirsty, vicious Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). At the end of Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeats Ivan, insuring a lifetime of shame and loathing for the latter.
Ivan’s presence in Creed II, the follow-up to the 2015 film Creed and effectively the next entry in the Rocky series, is menacing, although this time we don’t see as much skin.
His surrogate is his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), whom he’s been coaching to restore his former glory. Why? “I lose everything: country, respect,” he says, before taking a long pause, “wife” (Ludmilla Vobet Drago, played by actress Brigitte Nielsen).
So it seems like low-hanging fruit for Ivan to challenge the reigning champion, Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan). After all, Creed’s father, Apollo Creed, died from the injuries Ivan caused in Rocky IV.
While Creed establishes the younger Creed’s life — his mother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) and his wife, singer-songwriter Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson) — and pins the name Creed and holds it like a hypnotizing pendulum, Creed II is centered on this rematch of a Drago versus a Creed.
Which is interesting, although, like most of the events we see in the film, we’ve seen this before. I don’t mean we’ve seen this in Rocky films, but we’ve seen this in other films. Training montages? Family drama interspersed with a member’s own jeopardizing growth and ambitions? Check and check. One of the training montages in this one has Donnie run toward the car that Rocky’s driving — falling down, getting up, never giving up, etc.
And it’s fine. Jordan’s charisma is unbridled — being hurt physically is already hard enough, after all.
In Creed II, Jordan can look crestfallen and hardened with ease. He can be romantic, too, since the movie starts with Creed proposing to Taylor. Thompson isn’t relegated to being a supporting archetype, like her character in the first movie, and neither is Rashad.
Rocky, with his hoarse Italian-accented voice, is still as vital as ever as Donnie’s coach. He still visits Adrian’s (his deceased wife’s) grave and walks her through his day.
Rocky has always been a character remembered for his emotional availability, one that isn’t much afforded to our Russian friends in Creed II. This spells out the problems with Creed II.
Okay, seeing Ivan Drago after all these years is all the rage, cool, but Viktor’s internal strife is only hinted at. He’s just the person that gets in Donnie’s way.
Taken as Rocky’s continuing story, Creed II is credible enough. Directed by Steven Caple, Jr. with a script written by Juel Taylor and Stallone, Creed IImanages to fill the shoes left by Ryan Coogler, who directed Creed into considerable renown. The legend of Rocky Balboa didn’t need Creed II to polish its status, but it did it.