Hot Take: As a sucker for boxing movies and native of the Philly suburbs, do you really think there’s a chance I didn’t love this movie?
Someone asked me recently if Rocky was a real person. Even though Rocky Balboa — the character at the center of a cinematic franchise which has now spawned 8 films — is loosely based on a real boxer (Chuck Wepner), Rocky is technically not real. However, if you’re from the Philadelphia area and you’re familiar with the Rocky story right down to the “Rocky steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Rocky statue which once lived outside the old Spectrum but now spends its days just northeast of those famed steps, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t consider Rocky Balboa influential. If you really want to understand how important Rocky is to the city of Philadelphia, Sylvester Stallone who portrays Rocky is beloved in Philadelphia AND a native New Yorker. So, even though I eventually answered “no” to the question about Rocky’s reality, it wasn’t as simple as that. Now, that the Rocky universe has a second life in Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed (portrayed in the first four Rocky films by Carl Weathers before meeting his demise at the hands of Ivan Drago), it still continues to hang on to Rocky as the catalyst to keep this story moving along. For this franchise to live on, it’s going to take the Adonis character (eventually), to continue the Rocky legacy. What would have seemed like an impossible task before Creed, at least seemed like something to consider. We’re going to have to say goodbye to Rocky at some point as sad as that is for all of us invested in the Rocky character. The question remains: Can Adonis Creed connect enough to carry the Rocky franchise into the next decade? If Creed II is an indication, it feels as though the answer is still maybe but it’s closer to yes than it was before Creed II.
It’s hard to look at Creed II without showing bias. There are very few boxing movies I don’t love. Hell, I even enjoyed Play It to the Bone, a 1999 flop starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas as best friends who were also boxing rivals which sits at a whopping 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and managed just $8.4 million at the box office. Plus, even though the title says Creed, it’s a Rocky movie. Until Rocky dies, they’re all Rocky movies. Even then, as long as Sylvester Stallone is alive, we’ll be hoping for some sort of appearance a la Star Wars’ usage of “Force” ghosts. Let’s not kid anyone into thinking that somehow Michael B. Jordan in two films can take the focus off of Stallone in the role he was born to play. That’s not to say Jordan isn’t great in the titular role. It could end up being the role that defines his career, too, though he’s talented enough to do more and has already delivered a few other amazing performances in his short career. If Creed II proves anything, though, it’s that Jordan has the ability to carry the franchise further along.
We haven’t talked much about the film but if you’re familiar with the Rocky franchise, Creed II is unsurprising in it’s structure and dramatic narrative. Much like boxing, most of the time is spent outside of the ring. Adonis, recently crowned world champion, is confronted by his father’s (and Rocky’s) past when Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) appears with his son Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) who has been fighting in the Ukraine where Ivan was in exile after his embarrassing loss to Rocky in 1985. With the help of spotlight grabbing promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), Ivan and son appear to publicly taunt Adonis and challenge him for the title. It’s best to stop here though the rest doesn’t offer up too many surprises but plenty of nostalgia for those who’ve invested countless hours into watching and re-watching (Rocky IV was on HBO when I was in my teens and I must have watched that film 50 times or more) the films of the Rocky franchise.
If you’ve hung around this long, I’m pretty sure you know where I stand on Creed II. I could have told you I was going to at least like the film before I saw it. After seeing it, I can tell you I loved it. In the pantheon of Rocky films, I’d put it ahead of Rocky III and Rocky V (the worst of the Rocky films) and on par with Rocky IV which is right around where I would have ranked Creed. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of the original (a Best Picture winner) or Rocky II (one of the best sequels of all-time) but it delivers an adrenaline rush of an experience in the first and third acts with a second act that does enough with the Adonis storyline to want to see more of this character in the years to come. We still wouldn’t mind if Rocky stays along for the ride, either, as I don’t think any of us are ready to let that character go.
Somehow I failed to mention this throughout the review but damn, those boxing scenes are shot well.
You’re a lover not a fighter.