Whoever said history never repeats didn’t work in Hollywood. Remakes and reboots have taken over theatres, recycling ideas and characters in what can sometimes feel like a continuous case of déjà vu. This week we have “Creed II” a sequel to a reboot, which is also a remake of sorts of a film made before star Michael B. Jordan was even born.
When we last saw Adonis Creed (Jordan) he was a young man who never knew his dad, former world champion boxer Apollo Creed. He did, however, inherit the old man’s love of boxing and much of his skill. Working with his dad’s old friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to get into ring-ready shape he, like his father before him, wins the respect of the boxing world.
In the new film he finds confronted by his father’s legacy in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed Apollo in the ring decades ago.
The year was 1985. Apollo Creed came out of a five-year retirement to give Soviet Olympic boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) a good old-fashioned American pummelling. Instead, with Rocky in his corner, Apollo is beaten senseless by the 6 foot 5 inch steroid-enhanced Russian. Just as Rocky drops the towel to end the fight Drago delivers the coup de grâce, a fatal blow that kills Apollo in centre ring. Determined to avenge Apollo’s death Rocky squares off with Drago in the Soviet Union in a Christmas season match. Journeyman Rocky shocks the world by winning, beating the statuesque Eastern Bloc fighter by knockout.
Flash forward to “Creed II.” The sting of that Reagan-era loss still bothers Drago (Lundgren, who else?). Shaping his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) into a lean, mean fighting machine. Drago seeks to vicariously regain honour in the ring. “In Russia,”
Drago says, “no one will touch the Drago name. Everything changed that night.”
Father and son challenge Adonis, now the world heavyweight champion, to a match. “My son will break your biy,” Drago says, taunting Rocky. Despite Rocky’s warnings Adonis accepts the fight, looking for vengeance for a man he never knew. The showdown between the duelling sons brings into focus the shared legacy of the four men, Adonis, Viktor, Drago and Rocky.
“Creed II” isn’t really a movie about boxing. There are two brutal fight scenes but narratively this is about finding a sense of purpose, inside and outside of the ring. It’s about the why rather than the how. On that score it works. Director Steven Caple Jr. focuses on the characters allowing us to get to know them better, or in the case of Rocky and Drago, get reacquainted with them.
The film takes its time setting up the relationships before getting into the more traditional “Rocky” tropes, ie: unconventional but effective training methods and a rousing finale, complete with a riff on Bill Conti’s rousing “Rocky” theme song “Gonna Fly Now.”
This study of fathers and sons, of vengeance and reputation is really a look at brittle masculinity. These characters are all broken somehow, looking for something they are unlikely to find in the ring. “Why do you fight?” Rocky asks Adonis several times, sending him off on an introspective journey that leads him back to where his quest began, his father.
“Creed II” reverberates with the echoes of “Rocky” past but transcends being an exercise in déjà vu by amping up the emotional content to TKO levels. It is neither a rehash nor completely original work. It’s simply another puzzle piece in the feel good “Rocky” saga.