The “Rocky” boxing-movie series has contributed substantially to the American narrative. It’s here to stay; it’s been here to stay for decades. We love Rocky, the humble underdog who wins. Can’t ever get enough of that. We love the warrior, er, creed.
“Creed II” is the eighth “Rocky” film, and while not quite the roaring comeback for the almost wrung-out series that “Creed” was, it’s a solid rung in this “Rocky” ladder. And where, ultimately, does the “Rocky” ladder lead? Because, as of this “Creed,” there are definitely going to be at least two more “Creed” films.
Then maybe there’ll be a “Clubber.” As in Clubber Lang, Mr. T’s character in “Rocky III.” Or a “Thunderlips” (Hulk Hogan’s character in “Rocky III”). In future “Rocky” films, perhaps Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of Apollo Creed (erstwhile opponent of Rocky Balboa), will have to fight the male offspring of Lang and Thunderlips.
And then, should Sylvester Stallone still be among the living, we’ll get into the Balboa, Creed, and Lang grandchildren all duking it out.
But again, where does it all ultimately lead? It’s really an urban (and suburban) manhood and warrior saga. There are many manly things here. There is the warrior creed. There is fatherhood. Mostly bad fatherhood.
“Creed” dealt with the issue of Rocky himself laying down the warrior sword and taking up the elder staff. That’s always a good man issue to address; men have problems with that. I’ve talked a lot about how modern society is missing the crucial boyhood-to-manhood rite of passage; it’s also missing the transitional passage to male tribal elder. No warrior, of his own volition, will choose to put away his sword while he’s still slightly dangerous.
“Creed II” addresses father-son bonds: Young Creed becomes a father; his opponent’s dad is the dad who killed Creed’s dad in the ring. And Rocky himself re-establishes contact with his own son.
On the way to a coffee shop to write this, I saw a young lady wearing a “The Future is Female” T-shirt. No doubt the popular term “toxic masculinity” is often upon her lips. I believe the correct term is toxic non-masculinity. But sure, the “Rocky” franchise demonstrates some toxic masculinity: organized crime, ruthless promoters, and ruthless fighters.
Adonis still calls Rocky, now his trainer by way of storytelling perfection, “Unc.” Life is good. But then a devious boxing promoter (Russell Hornsby) (yes, “devious boxing promoter” is a redundant term) scouts down the Drago men in Russia. Dad Ivan is looking for payback and redemption after losing to Rocky, and son Viktor is very ambitious. It’s the perfect, logical plot and lineage/heritage extension.
Fast forward to the younger Creed-Drago boxing match number one: Drago the beast—with the mile-wide lats, shoulders, and trapezius muscles of an Olympic weightlifter—crushes the smaller Creed. Which of course leads to the ubiquitous (to “Rocky” movies) frenzied training camp. This one looks like something out of “Mad Max,” and the inhabitants look like MS-13 gang members, which is to say, very intense.
Will Creed prevail? This is his opportunity to vindicate the family name, although wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and mom Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) warn against it.
Will he get Unc Rock back to train him? Rocky refuses to train him for the first fight, wanting no part of setting another Drago against another Creed. Viktor, like his father before him, is a physical specimen that towers over and outweighs Creed.
Will Adonis prevail in this David versus Goliath showdown? What do you think? Even if you can guess the answer, the fight scenes are so excellent they’ll still have you holding your breath and white-knuckling some object, like your movie chair armrest or your date.
What Else Is Good?
Stallone has always been underestimated as a dramatic actor, and his work here is real and vulnerable. Same goes for Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, who plays his wife.
The sleeper performance, the one you don’t see coming, is compliments of Dolph Lundgren. He’s long been an acting joke, due to the fact that he was, for years, a 6’5” blond Swedish Adonis with the body of Hercules. How could a guy like that possibly also do art? He’s not a real actor!
Yes he is. That’s why he’s here, 30 years later, reprising his role, and that’s why you can feel the pain of the Soviet Union crushing Ivan Drago for 30 years due to his loss to Rocky. The communist regime links losing with being a loser, and you can see his shame. After this performance, I want to see the Swedish Lundgren and the Danish Viggo Mortensen play brothers.
Next up, Florian Munteanu is perfectly cast as Viktor, an absolute beast, with a wounded animal inside—wounded in witnessing his father’s pain. Inspired casting is also Brigitte Nielsen, Stallone’s former wife, as Viktor’s mother, Ludmila, who left Ivan, and he had to raise their son on his own.
What’s not good is the score. It’s got schmaltz bordering on elevator music. It’s also not great that the best drama has to do with the secondary plot of the father-son pairing rather than that of Rocky and Adonis.
In “Creed,” the main issues were Rocky being forced, through cancer, to contemplate his mortality, and Adonis’s attempt to navigate life without a father. Those were the aspects that breathed new life into the franchise and made it feel millennial and complex, as opposed to the 1980s line ’em up and knock ’em down action.
Still, “Creed II” remains a tale of warriors, physical men who have fight skills. It’s a long story about grit. About endurance. It’s about the eye of the tiger, as the original theme song espoused, and honor and integrity. It’s about authenticity and guarding the territory. And with Adonis’s new family, it’s about accountability.
Above all, in this extended tale of fighting men, this episode demos fatherhood, the role of the protector, and especially between Ivan and Viktor—forgiveness and compassion. These are the building blocks of nontoxic masculinity.
The Future is Female and Male. Like it always has been and always will be.
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 21
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5