Yep, I finally saw it. Creed II, or algebraically [Rocky 2 + Rocky 4 / Creed].
It was something else.
Neither fish or fowl and certainly not much of a boxing movie.
What I loved about the first Creed was the story mimicked Michael B. Jordan’s abs, lean and mean. Over the course of two hours, you learned about Adonis “Creed” Johnson’s hardscrabble youth. Why he had a conflicted relationship with his father and his sympathetic step-mother. The drive to get him in the ring and why he loves Rocky Balboa and his talented singer-songwriter girlfriend, Bianca.
The only thing Donny retreated from in the first Creed was the privileged life provided to him. He grew up wealthy and benefited from the fruits of his father’s fame: good education, good job, good family. When he is grappling with the struggle to be a fighter, the movie rings true. Rocky serves as his Virgil, guiding him through the trials of a life forged in back alley gyms. It’s visceral. You can feel the cracks in the heavy bags, the sting of the speed bag and the pop in the focus pads. Donny looks like a fighter because he is simply that, a fighter.
Tack on two of the best fights captured between the ropes and you have an all-time great boxing movie. I’ve been to a lot of boxing matches and I rarely stood up and cheered. Creed was like every good part of The Bible plus card girls, Rocky beating cancer and Donny getting his due. Shadowboxing was up like a million percent after Donny knocked down “Pretty” Ricky Conlan. I was a slobbering mess at the end of Creed because it was a triumph.
Creed II should have been a setup fight, an easy walk-through for any storyteller. How in everything that is good and holy could they have made a such a slogfest for the sequel? The second movie suffers from the worst sin of any sport’s movie—it was boring. I don’t mind formulaic stories, in fact, Creed II benefits from having the standard intro, conflict and resolution narrative. But they only pump life into the third act and it seemed to take forever to get there.
Standing 8 Count
Let’s get the positives out of the way.
The last 36 minutes of the movie was awesome.
The only reason why I know it was 36 minutes is because I kept checking my watch throughout the film. I don’t care that Donny doesn’t know how to propose to his girlfriend (neither did I), what to do with a baby with a birth defect (you don’t have to throw it into the river, you can actually just love the kid), how to get a mortgage for a new apartment (this wasn’t in the movie but I was surprised there wasn’t a meeting with financial advisor to discuss his 401K because they sure did discuss a ton of other things that didn’t involve boxing), who thought having trance/electronic music as the intro (for the record, Metallica’s “For Whom the Bells Toll” is the only ring entry music that should ever be played, or Method Man’s “Bring the Pain”) or Rocky needing to talk to his dead wife (I just assume it’s cold in Philly during the winter and Paulie actually sucks).
It took forever to get to that moment where I was like, “Oh, they’re going to do some serious training and then go beat up a Ruskie with mommy issues.” And when they finally started getting to work and then go put down a beating—What’s your name? Creed! What’s your name? CREED!!—I was pumped.
I just wish I wasn’t so deflated throughout the movie to get to this point.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Ivan Drago, Dolph Lundgren, is in this movie. His son, Viktor Drago, is the massive, superhuman thug man-child that Donny fights. I could find a synonym for massive but why bother? Let’s just say that Viktor Drago is massive in every shape imaginable. Consider the history between Rocky/Apollo/Ivan and how the Russians stole the election, he’s the perfect antagonist for Creed.
Yet. I found myself rooting for him. That’s perfect if the movie was called, “Drago: A Family Affair.” He looked like a white George Foreman or an oversized Mike Tyson. I don’t know what that muscle on the neck is called, but he had like five of them. He even looked like a boxer. I thought he was great and his story was the most compelling in the movie. [Hold that thought]
Donny wasn’t fighting for anything. He already has a creative, kind, beautiful partner in Bianca. His mom loves the snot out of him and Rocky treats him like a son (speaking of daddy issues—why they tacked that part of the story into this movie, I’ll never know). Donny is sweet, compassionate and wickedly intelligent. The fact that he was able to get to the mountain top in the first place is remarkable. Where he took it didn’t make any sense.
What needed to happen was Donny had to be a dick. When he was yelling for his car keys back should have been Donny throughout the movie. Which gets me to thinking…
Donny is the heavyweight champion of the world. To celebrate, he proposes to Bianca and they head back to Philadelphia. While getting a cheese steak, he catches wind of Drago baiting him for a fight. Hell yes, he’s going to take it. Rocky doesn’t want him to. Instead, he tells Donny to take some easier fights to build his resume. Bianca doesn’t want him to fight because they’re about to have a baby. His mom says don’t do this for your father.
Nonplussed, Donny tells Rocky to go to Hell and sends his pregnant fiancé off to his mother’s. He goes to Avon Barksdale and starts training but it ain’t working. Even Avon says don’t do it, but he doesn’t listen. They still fight Drago and he gets his ass kicked but holds on to the title because of a disqualification. It changes him…for the worse. Donny gets violent. Instead of being the goodie-two shoes, he starts messing around with women and girls and all sorts of trouble. It ends with him wrapping his daddy’s Mustang around a telephone pole and back in the hospital. But this time, it’s a prison hospital. He’s sentenced to six month and he uses that time to get even meaner. Bianca visits, but he can’t stand seeing her while in jail. His mom visits and tells him that this is where I found you and I hope you stay here until you get your head right. It’s not until Rocky visits and tells him that life is a fight, but not this one. Donny breaks down. Instead of saying goodbye, he tells Rocky he has to do something. He leaves the visiting room and goes to the prison yard for an illegal boxing match. He beats the hell out of the convict.
Once he is released, Avon and Rocky pick up Donny in the repaired Mustang and take him to the desert to start training for the Drago rematch. Donny is mean. He’s cutting through tattooed Mexicans left and right. He keeps break sledgehammers. Donny becomes even bigger and meaner and is singularly focused on getting revenge. They fly to Russia. While checking into the hotel, his mom greets him at the door. He apologizes and she accepts it. She then says, I have somebody who wants to meet you. Turn the corner and there is Bianca with their new daughter. Donny breaks down and vows to be a better man because now he knows what he is fighting for. They embrace and cue the Rocky music.
You can use the end of the movie because I liked that part, except for the part where Rocky gives a lame fist bump.
Anyway, Mark Miller told my car is ready. Just killing time before I head to work. Just a final thought, for a narrative effect, they should have broken the entire movie into 12 rounds, all three minutes, and then interstitially put my story into the movie. Just a thought.