Michael B. Jordan continues to ably lead this Rocky spin-off back to the future…

Directed by Steven Caple Jr./2018

Rocky VIII (unless you ignore Rocky V, making it Rocky VII), or Rocky IV: Part 2 Creed’s Revenge, are both apt titles for the solid, fun, and yet completely unnecessary Rocky spin-off series, Creed, and now its unlikely sequel, Creed IICreed, the first film of this new series, focused on the unknown, illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), who grew up in foster care, but who is taken in by Apollo’s late wife, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad).  Growing up, he longs to strike out on his own as a fighter, seeking out his late-father’s old friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to serve as his mentor and trainer.  He also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a strong, independent woman who is a talented musician, who teaches him what it means to truly fight for something, as she struggles against her progressive hearing loss.  Like in the original Rocky film, Creed loses his big fight by a split decision, but earns respect for himself, both from those outside the sport, and himself.

Creed II picks up where the last film left off, as Adonis continues to fight, eventually earning a shot at the title.  Once he is on top, everything starts to fall apart for the new champion.  His recent move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles has created obvious distance between he and Rocky.  Bianca and he are expecting their first child, but there are fears that the hereditary hearing condition that Bianca suffers from might be passed on.  And to top it all off, the man who killed his dad in the ring, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), now has a son who boxes and who is openly challenging Creed to a fight.  Promoters are obviously salivating over the money to made from the fight, given the dramatic backstory of Creed battling the son of the man who killed his father.  Rocky, who held Apollo in his arms as he died (in Rocky IV), wants nothing to do with history repeating for Apollo’s son, as Rocky blames himself for not throwing in the towel to end the fight before it was too late for his friend, back in 1985.

Rocky IV, while extremely popular at the time, especially by all of us kids raised in the last days of the cold war who cheered excessively at Rocky taking on the Russians as an extension of our cold proxy-war, has not aged well in retrospect.  Paulie and the robot relationship aside, the music video editing, and the cheesy global political speeches (from a boxer who supposedly suffered brain damage from the fight) alone age it very badly. This, along with the cartoon-ish caricaturization of Drago, and his wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nelsen) as evil personified, make it one of the low points of the Rocky series, which then bottomed out in the terrible follow-up, Rocky V.  However, with Creed further canonizing Apollo’s fate, it is a story-line that must be dealt with in Creed II, especially since Creed spent so much time focusing on how Adonis needed to climb out of the shadow of his late-father, and be his own man, even as he takes on the enormous burden of the Creed name.

Creed II boldly embraces this Russian connection making this basically Rocky IV: Part 2: Creed’s Revenge. It is 2018, but this sequel takes us back to 1985. Michael B. Jordan continues to ably lead this Rocky spin-off back to the future. Creed II also miraculously continues the strong story and performances of the first Creed film, while elevating the original Rocky IV story-line to a place of respectability as a result.  This is no small task, especially given that Ryan Coogler does not return to direct this sequel, serving as a producer only on this installment, turning the reins over as the sophomore effort for director Steven Caple Jr.

Rocky IV now becomes required viewing if watching the Rocky series from the beginning, so that Creed II has even more relevance when you arrive at its place in the viewing order.  While this is technically Rocky VIII, it is encouraged that one skip Rocky V if possible, making Creed II really Rocky VII picking up after Rocky Balboa more or less righted the ship in many ways, serving as a prequel of sorts to this new Creed series (including seeing Milo Ventimiglia return as Robert Balboa, Rocky’s son).

Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu) has been raised in the Ukraine with his father Ivan, where both live in obscurity, doing menial labor following Ivan Drago’s loss to Rocky over 30 years ago.  With his loss, his Soviet handlers cast him aside as an embarrassment to the country since he was beat by the American (and the fact that Drago denounced the Soviet premier in the same match).  After the fall of the Soviet union, Ivan Drago found himself even less important as former satellite nations struggled to find their own identity in the face of new political and economic realities.  He lost everything he had, mainly the respect and lifestyle he had been enjoying, along with his wife who left to find someone with a better financial outlook, never really contacting his son.  Both Ivan and Viktor, as a result, have more to prove with Viktor’s success than just winning a match.  They are hungry,both literally and figuratively. Following a severe beat down, the question is if Adonis Creed is hungry too, or is he just trying to keep from losing what he has attained?

While many of these themes have already been dealt with in previous Rocky films, namely Rocky II and Rocky III, it is still a grounded and effective character arc for Adonis Creed, especially in the hands of the talented Michael B. Jordan.  It is still a crowd-pleaser. Creed II, with a screenplay penned by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone, continues the character-driven narrative of Creed, and that existed in the original Rocky film, which won it a Best Picture Oscar in 1976.  While Creed II will not be an Oscar contender, it is a worthy sequel that accomplishes the task of dealing squarely with the biggest Creed-related story-line that served as the defining moment a young Adonis had to deal with if he was going to be called a “Creed”, and that is his father’s death.  Now that Creed II has dealt with it squarely, we can look forward to him truly existing outside Apollo’s shadow in the inevitable Creed III. I have no doubt that it will mean a re-birth of the next natural narrative arc as the Creed series seeks to continue to recreate the beats of the original Rocky series, in its own way, and that is the return of The Eye of the Tiger!