I was too young to understand the entire situation that would be known as the Cold War, but eventually would get the gist of the conflict: Threats of a Soviet attack landing on North American soil. The Soviet Union may have dissolved, yet the cold war was brought back to life in Creed II, starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren. The original Creed film debuted three years to the sequel and was met with wide appraise. As with most continuations, the question arises: Can the next edition can live up to the standard set by the first?

The short answer is sorta, with a shoulder shrug.

The cast of Creed II is a fantastic ensemble, including the likes of Phylicia Rashad who plays Mary Anne Creed, Adonis’ (Michael B. Jordan) mother. Of course, what kind of movie would this be without Stallone reprising his iconic role of Rocky Balboa to mentor Adonis as he rises to the top of the boxing ranks. From the trailer, you can tell that the big, bad villain of the film is the son of Rocky IV nemesis Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu). The father-son pair come to America to stir up some trouble for ol’ Rocky and Creed… or at least that’s what the film attempted to portray.

What becomes evident as the movie progresses is that Viktor Drago’s story is not all that different from Rocky’s. Yes, his father is Drago, the man who killed Adonis’s father, Apollo, in a boxing match. Yet, how much do the sins of the father fall upon the son? The film has plenty of paternal themes, and while I haven’t watched an episode of This is Us, it’s what I imagine viewers put themselves through each episode.

Creed II antagonist Viktor Drago carries the burden of his once famous parents, and the filmmakers portray the younger Drago Creed’s nemesis — just like their fathers were. Yet, apart from carrying his father’s surname, there’s really nothing evil about the “Big Bad” of this movie. Viktor Drago is simply a big boxer trying to please a father who has lost the respect of those he cares about, both country and family.

Can a father’s search for redemption be all that evil? You’ll have to be the judge.

In the other corner is Adonis Creed, who is doing well for himself since the first film, where he had to prove that he belonged in the city of ‘Brotherly Love.’ Like most young stars of sport, Adonis learns how to juggle the many titles that are associated with being a man of his stature: Champion, significant other, father, son and fighter. Similar to the first film, Adonis has one fight he can never win — trying to best his late father and his legacy.

After being an underdog in the first installment of the Creed series, Adonis now finds himself with a target on his back. With promoters and contenders licking their chops to get a piece of him,  Adonis finds himself trying to get established as one of the best the sport has ever seen and gain acceptance by his hometown, Philadelphia. From the bottom of the heap to standing at the top of the mountain, the young boxer learns that there are perils regardless of where you stand on the path.   

Learning to handle fame when it floods in front of your eyes is a significant step in anyone’s development. Fortunately for you and I, we don’t need to take a left hook to the face to come to that realization. In Adonis’ case, he learns the cost of fame and focusing on the wrong goals only after many beatings. The realization that his legacy superseded every other aspect of his life nearly led to him losing all that he held dear shakes him to the core. By trying to live up to the gold standards set by both his famous trainer and his late father, young Creed is fighting ghosts as much as Viktor Drago.

You can’t practice being famous. However, you can control your own actions. Keeping a level head under pressure is kind of like taking a punch to the face, as Adonis demonstrates. While we’re not clear as to what heights of fame Creed reaches, we do know that there are just as many problems that come with the pleasantries associated with stardom. It’s a shame that there’s none of that struggle in the sequel.

Tessa Thompson looks on from the crowd during a scene from Creed II.

Locations matter when you deciding on where to live and they also matter to the setting of a film. What made the first Creed so enamoring was that romanticism between the characters and what it meant to be from/accepted by the city of Philadelphia. This sequel feels as though the setting was just a location to flash across the screen when the time came. That is, until you consider the circumstances of the Dragos. Both father and son set up in the Ukraine, which felt like a lifetime away from the glamour that was Drago’s reception in Soviet Russia in the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise. Most of their training taking place in shipping yards, on empty streets and other unconventional areas that don’t point to being a training facility for boxing. For someone that movie-goers are supposed to root against, it appears that the Dragos are just a couple of guys trying to make the best of their situation.

Meanwhile, in a nondescript locale, Creed is fighting to be champion and… well, not much else. The first film projected the boxer as a man that loved the sport and would fight as if it were written into his genetic code. This time around, it’s unclear what Adonis’ motivation to fight is. In principal, Creed’s path to avenge the defeat and death of his father is the storyline that will put butts in seats to see the movie. However, once you leave the theatre, you realize  that pitting legacy offsprings against one another certainly feels more like a MacGuffin than an honourable quest of retribution.

The biggest hangup for me was fascinating characters with nothing to do in the film or who didn’t get enough screen time to get the viewer’s buy-in. One of the biggest difficulties in making any movie is fitting all the plot points you want from a script into a two hour and 10 minute movie. I would be interested to see what was left on the cutting floor from this film. Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, feels more like a secondary character than a lead in the film. There are plenty of scenes where the actress showcases her vocal chops, yet her career and the character itself don’t resonate in this film like they did in the first one. Why the aspiring singer, who is near deaf, was shunned into the background this time around is up for debate, but we would have liked to see more from the daily life of Creed’s love interest.

I’ve already touched on how Viktor Drago is not as much of villain as the trailers made him out to be. The young fighter actually appealed to me throughout the viewing — credit to Munteanu for his acting job. Although Adonis’ nemesis does not receive much dialogue in the film, the facial reactions and excellent camera work illustrate that there’s some substance lying under Viktor’s chiseled physique. When it comes to the action in the ring, Viktor Drago can more than hold his own. Yet, Viktor feels more like a child just trying to please the people he cares about. Hardly the M.O. of a character viewers should be rooting against.  

As physically imposing as the Dragos appear to be, you come to learn that they’re indeed human by the end of the film.

What life was like for the big guy growing up? As alluded to earlier, the younger Drago grew up poorer than his famous father, with a desire to climb to the top, similar to his old man — or so we’re led to believe. That idea alone, the fall of Ivan Drago and the rise to fame of Viktor, would make for a fascinating standalone film. Instead, outside of the patented workout montages, we just get a glimpse of what the life of an ostracised champion and his son are in a few moments. Whether this was to protect the actor or had more to do with runtime, only time will tell, but it is a credit to those behind the screen that made Viktor Drago as appealing as he was given his limited experience in a feature role.

By now, the formula for most Rocky films is clear: Fill with training montages, make protagonist get a beatdown both in the ring as well as outside of it, and (of course!) overcome the odds. It’s pretty played out, yet the film did well, grossing $81.1 million in its first two weeks at the box office. As much as boxing is pitted as a machismo sport, this title is an ideal date night that should eventually be a Netflix and chill flick that will not leave you disappointed.

Creed II attempts to recapture the Rocky glory. It’s a nostalgic trip back to the familiar setting of Rocky IV.  Although there’s no missile crisis, the struggle to make it as a boxer, father, singer or even just a decent human being exceeds the concerns of any arms race by one nation. Road blocks such as pride, regret and ego can lead you on a path that’s in the opposite direction of your goals. Each subject an obstacle that was once overcame by Rocky on his rise to stardom.   

This is not a coming-of-age flick. It’s more like a left hook to the ribs that stays with you after you leave the theatre. While Rocky’s legendary stamina was left in the Cold War era it hails from, Adonis pulls you into a story that the new generation of Rocky fans can relate to. This counterpunch from the burgeoning franchise won’t be qualified as a knockout, but it certainly will win viewers over.  

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