Creed II movie cast: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren
Creed II movie director: Steven Caple Jr
Creed II movie rating: 3 stars
The eighth film in the Rocky series, Creed II returns to Rocky IV. That is to say, even as Michael B. Jordan did a surefooted job of taking over the reins in Creed I, with Sylvester Stallone guiding him from the sidelines, this time it’s Sly’s Rocky and the ghosts of his past that drive Creed II.
Particularly one giant ghost, in the form of the Russian killing machine Ivan Drago, who in Rocky IV had bludgeoned Apollo Creed to death in the boxing ring, and had later been soundly defeated by Rocky. Ivan is back, again played by Lundgren, with as giant of a son, Viktor (played by real-life boxer Florian Munteanu). Thirsting for revenge against Rocky, Ivan wants to pit Viktor against Creed’s son Adonis (Jordan), who is Rocky’s protege.
It’s not just sins of fathers that haunt the characters of Creed II. So do the love, or the lack of it, of mothers — the film lays this really thick. Meanwhile, Adonis not just battles being the son of his father, but with girlfriend Bianca (Thompson), also ventures into parenthood himself.
With the underlying fathers-and sons theme of this particular Rocky spin-off established, the plot charts a familiar trajectory, from self-doubt to triumph, in and outside the ring, as most boxing films. It does this mostly with conviction. Jordan, who has consistently impressed in his short career, is compelling in all his roles here, of son, surrogate son, lover, and fighter. The wizened old Stallone is charming as ever, and Thompson revels in the fact that despite this film being all about the men, with the women essentially hailed for being enthusiastic cheerleaders, Bianca at least has a career as a singer.
However, unlike Creed I (directed by Ryan Coogler) that had a life of its own outside the Rocky sphere, Creed II exists only to serve its stories further. The people with the most interesting past and intriguing future in Creed II remain Rocky and Ivan, reprising their celebrated rivalry of 1985. Viktor is no more than a vassal of Ivan’s single-minded hatred, and Adonis is still to get a story separate from Apollo’s — though this film promises that will change.
Most disappointingly though, in the strange new world that the US and Russia inhabit now, Rocky and Ivan’s enmity doesn’t even come dressed in the showy patriotism of 1985 — though there will be few not thinking of the same as the scenes shift from Los Angeles to Moscow. Rocky IV ended with Rocky promising that he and Ivan were changed men from their encounter in the ring, not just instruments of the politics of their countries, and that if the two of them could change, so could “we all”.
Clearly Ivan didn’t fall for Rocky’s speech, but the world did change. As Ivan makes a reappearance, it’s not Gorbachev who he has standing in his corner, as in Rocky IV. Only his very estranged, very cold wife. And home for Ivan is a cold Ukraine, which going by this film and Putin’s line, is no more than an extension of Russia.