The Rocky saga continues with Creed II. It would be nice for the Creed films to have their own identity. It’s not just that they still have Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in a key role; they both rely heavily on plot from the earlier Rocky films rather than looking for their own paths.
In Creed, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), illegitimate son of Rocky’s foe/friend Apollo Creed, embarks on a boxing career under the Balboa’s tutelage. That film was in part a search by Adonis for a connection to the father he never knew. In the present film, Adonis becomes champion, but soon he is publicly challenged by Victor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu), son if Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the fighter who (in the 1985 Rocky IV) killed Apollo in the ring, and was later beaten and disgraced by Rocky. Rocky still carries guilt about not stopping the fight before Apollo was killed. The elder Drago still carries a grudge against Rocky.
Rocky refuses to train Adonis for the fight, but Adonis goes on with Tony Burke, son of Apollo’s trainer. After taking a terrible beating, Adonis retains his title on a disqualification. But his life is facing many changes. Not least of which is that his fiancée Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is having a baby. Is Adonis willing to risk everything in a rematch with so many new responsibilities? (Well, it’s a Rocky movie, isn’t it? Of course there will be a rematch.) In terms of plot, this story develops very like Rocky IV, except than rather that getting killed, Adonis is only almost killed.
The film seems to want to talk about family, and especially fatherhood. It seems fitting that after the search for a father-figure in Creed, the sequel might want to look at what it will mean to Adonis to become a father. The film certainly offers that opportunity. A subplot deals with Rocky wanting to call his estranged son, but not having the courage to seek a reconciliation. The ingredients for Adonis and Rocky to struggle with what it means to be a father are there, but that theme gets overwhelmed by the boxing. Adonis seems pretty cavalier about the possibility of leaving his child fatherless as his father left him.
This film brings all the familiar emotions of the other Rocky Saga films. I suppose that’s why people like sequels—getting to see the same story again. Like the other films in the series, it relies on many brutal fight scenes. These are more brutal than real boxing, which is brutal in itself. What makes the difference (at least in my mind) between a good and lesser boxing film is if the fighting adds something to the human story being lived out by the characters or if the story is just the mechanism to get to the next fight scene. Creed II gives priority to the boxing. When we walk out of the film, what we remember is the bone-crushing body blows, not the soul-rending doubts that Rocky, Adonis, and Bianca all face. (And because of the father/son relationship of Ivan and Victor, there is a whole other perspective that could have been considered.)
This is why I think the Creed films need to find a new direction out of the Rocky paradigm. They could offer us some depth to justify making us watch the bloody gladiatorial spectacles of overdone boxing.