Old school tune by 50 Cent from when he was coming up,
Supposedly got him shot, he sure was heavy with the name-drops,
Still, the beat is tight, lyrics paint a picture of the hood,
Told through the eyes of a small-time dealer made good,
Listened to this on high rotation the day I fulfilled a deal with pops,
Conjured up when my trip to hell and back had just begun.
Warning: This post contains movie spoilers
When the first of the two Creed films was released back in 2015 there were mixed feelings from fans of the Rocky series as it was marketed as a spin-off film, focusing on the trials and tribulations of the long-lost biological son of Rocky Balboa’s late, great rival-turned-best friend, Apollo Creed. The plot itself was intriguing, in which Adonis Creed (with a father whose name was Apollo Creed you knew that the kid would have a name that sounded mythical) seeks out Rocky Balboa to help turn him into a boxing champion. As interesting as this film sounded there remained an air of cynicism regarding how well such a storyline would manifest itself on film without spoiling the Rocky legacy. As a fan of the Rocky films my expectations were huge and I hoped that this film wouldn’t be a train wreck.
As we now know it turned out to be a pretty good film and Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone were praised for their performances as Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa, respectively, and three years later whispers of a sequel began to circulate, culminating in a teaser trailer making the rounds on social media in late June of 2018. It was a little over two minutes long but I watched it and instantly couldn’t wait to see the rest of the movie.
Whoah! This is gonna be a good one!
The film’s release date was tentatively scheduled for December of 2018 but in my mind, the countdown had begun. Again, the film’s plot was promising, in which Adonis Creed must defend his heavyweight title against Viktor Drago, the son of the man that had killed his father in the boxing ring in Rocky 4, Ivan Drago. Yes, it was going to be a deeply personal rivalry and if that teaser trailer was anything to go by, this film appeared to be a much darker story than its predecessor.
Not going to lie, though, while I was excited to see this film a part of me, once again, felt a tad cynical. While it would finally bring closure to the still-raw rivalry between Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa and also give Adonis Creed a chance to get even on his father’s behalf while carving out his own legacy, in my mind there was also the potential for this to head into cheesy and clichéd territory. Lord knows some of the Rocky sequels, while still worthwhile viewing, were let-downs compared to the original film that not only spawned a franchise and an iconic cinematic hero, but also ended up a success story during the 1977 Academy Awards. And I sure as hell was hoping that the film wouldn’t include a rematch between the old versions of Rocky and Ivan. Hey, an elderly Rocky returned to the ring in Rocky Balboa for a crack at the heavyweight champion and Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren both are still in great shape despite their ages so it was a possibility. Shoot, as I write this blog Stallone is on the cusp of returning to the big screen as an elderly John Rambo preparing to once again go to war. But thank the good Lord that such a rematch wasn’t included.
I had my blood transfusion not long after the release of that teaser trailer and on that night, as my father and I sat in the hospital room waiting for that one pint of blood to make its way into my system (it still amazes me how that one little pint took four hours) I told my father about the film and that I wanted to watch it with him once I had recovered. He agreed and we fist bumped on that deal.
“Whatever it is inside of me, let’s beat it. Then we can watch Creed 2,” I told him.
Dad grinned. “Sounds like a plan, let’s do it.”
Fast-forward to the first day of December and the moment had arrived. While Mom was scheduled to catch up with some old work buddies Dad and I headed to the movies. There was already a healthy number of spectators by the time my father and I took our seats in the middle aisle of a rather spacious theatre, mostly young couples, a few fathers and their sons and of course, groups of young guys that were no strangers to the gym themselves. The theatre wasn’t exactly packed to the rafters but the turn-out was decent.
As for me, I was totally hyped as I had waited six months and gone to hell and back for this. After a ten-minute wait the theatre darkened, the screened broadened and the commercials and previews began to roll out.
It’s show time!
Over the next hour and fifty minutes I sat on my seat, transfixed at what was playing out on the screen before me, most notably the fight scenes which, in my personal opinion, were the most intense in all of the previous Rocky films and certainly more so than in the first Creed film. While the fight scenes from the firstfilmwas geared more towards the technical side of the sport, Creed 2’s fight scenes showed the sweet science at its most brutal. Adonis Creed and Viktor Drago would engage in two vicious fights in this film and the script called for the first fight to be a near-disaster for Adonis as he takes a sickening beating from his much bigger and stronger challenger in three one-sided rounds that culminates in him being knocked unconscious by a cheap shot landed by Viktor while he was already on the canvas, therefore allowing him to keep his title via disqualification but also sending him to the hospital with horrible injuries. The second fight was a more balanced back and forth war in which both fighters took turns punishing one another until Adonis finds another gear to eventually overcome Viktor. Every punch landed by both men in both fights, made doubly persuasive by the sound system in the theatre, had the audience cringing in their seats.
Damn, even jabs sound like shotgun blasts! Compliments to the fight choreographers and sound effects folks.
I think the fight scenes in this film had the potential to make any aspiring fighter sit down and reconsider their chosen paths.
Fight scenes aside I was also impressed with the character of Viktor Drago and the performance from the man-mountain that portrayed him, an amateur boxer and fitness model named Florian Munteanu. Looking back on the previous Rocky films, every opponent that Rocky – and Adonis – faced in the ring were charming and charismatic (or in the case of Rocky 4’s Ivan Drago, straight-up intimidating) but also unlikeable enough to compel the audience to root for the heroes while hoping that the villain would be sensationally humiliated, win or lose, in the obligatory climactic fight scene towards the end of the films.
Not so Viktor Drago. In fact, if you read the comments under any YouTube video related to him or Florian Munteanu you’ll find that the character has many supporters, with many going so far as to say that they found themselves rooting for him in the end, which surely has to be a first for any antagonist from the Rocky franchise. You won’t find many stating that they were glad he ultimately had his ass handed to him by Adonis.
Maybe it’s because he is the son of arguably the most lethal antagonist from the Rocky series but the dude was written to be a fearsome brute like daddy dearest and also as a sympathetic figure. He has inherited his father’s strong, silent approach and does his best talking through his fists but also through his eyes, facial expressions and body language. His eyes widen with terror and shame whenever his father berates him, they furrow with rage and determination during fight scenes and every punch he throws during fights and in training are punctuated by loud grunts and growls, as though his punches are delivered with every ounce of his strength and the anger and trauma within him behind them. He also wears a look of contempt on his face later during the film when he is addressed to by some Russian aristocrats that had jumped onto the bandwagon once his career took off (the same types of people that he believes betrayed his father, hence his anger) and he recoils in sheer horror and disgust in the same scene when he is reunited with the mother that abandoned him and his father many years prior, after which his stoic façade finally breaks and he expresses his true feelings out loud during a heated discussion with his father in the very next scene about the nature of fickle, disloyal fans and runaway family members.
For someone making his film debut, Munteanu did a great job communicating with a minimal use of words although as a real life fighter he wouldn’t have needed much help with the fight scenes and was likely told to just be himself in that ring.
Man, I feel sorry for anyone that has to face this monster in the ring for real.
Unlike previous Rocky villains Viktor does not fight for championship belts, fame and fortune. Rather, he fights for the one thing that has sustained him throughout his life – the desire to one day feel his father’s love and respect. You see, following the events of Rocky 4 Ivan Drago was branded a national disgrace in his native Russia after losing to Rocky Balboa and was subsequently banished from his country. At the beginning of Creed 2 Ivan is a bitter old ex-fighter living in a run-down apartment in a rough section of Kiev in Ukraine with Viktor, whom he has raised entirely on his own following a divorce from his wife, who the audience later learns has remarried and lives a life of luxury in Moscow.
Ivan, still seething with rage after all these years at the way his life had turned out, is left to raise his son the only way he knew how – to groom him to be every bit the brutal wrecking machine that he was during his own boxing career and to use him as a means to regain his lost honor and prestige while also subjecting him to his own brand of ‘tough love’ that involves emotional and, at times, physical abuse.
Put simply, Viktor was ‘raised in hate’ as Rocky would tell Adonis at one point during the film.
Ivan often scolds and belittles his son during workouts and even between rounds during fights. During the first fight against Adonis for example, he chastises Viktor for failing to knock Adonis out in the very first round and after the second round of that fight comes and goes, during which Viktor again brutalizes Adonis but fails once again to finish him off and even absorbs a hard counter punch from the defiant champion shortly before the bell ends the round, Ivan angrily calls his son an embarrassment and even goes so far as to blame him for his wife’s departure from their lives.
Man that has got to hurt. A rabbit punch followed by a low blow that one was.
And Ivan’s preferred method of waking Viktor up every morning to train is to punch him in the stomach – and not with a friendly love tap, either. We’re talking about a hard jab to the bread basket that jolts his sleeping son awake.
Despite all this, Viktor harbors no ill will towards his father and looks to him as the only person in his life that he can trust. Having been on the wrong end of his father’s wrath his entire life and having been abandoned by his mother at an early age, it is clear that there is a wounded, insecure soul within the gruff exterior yearning to feel loved, even just for a short time.
Geez, Ivan, wake the fuck up and love your son, dude.
The climactic rematch between Adonis and Viktor rolls underway in Moscow towards the end of the film in front of Russia’s social elite, with Viktor’s mother and her husband in attendance. This fight is make-or-break for the Dragos, for Ivan it is a chance to reclaim what he had lost while Viktor senses it as an opportunity to finally earn his father’s respect. Viktor jumps to an early lead but a determined Adonis, fuelled by a desire to gain a measure of revenge for the death of his father at Ivan’s hands and to also put his previous encounter with Viktor behind him, refuses to yield and gradually turns the tide. He eventually outlasts the bigger challenger and in the end, Viktor finds himself fatigued, bloodied and discouraged, compounded by his mother and her husband eventually storming out of the arena when it becomes clear that Viktor’s chances of winning had evaporated.
Abandoned by his mother twice. Damn.
Adonis eventually traps a weary and demoralized Viktor on the ropes and unloads on him, forcing Ivan, who had finally realized that Viktor was right about his ex-wife and the fickle, disloyal people that he had sought to impress, to throw in the towel to save his son from further punishment – the first time we see Ivan perform an act of love towards the son he was hostile towards throughout the film.
As Adonis celebrates his victory with his family and friends, Viktor stands in his corner with his head bowed in shame and he shoves Ivan away as Ivan approaches him, believing that he is about to be disowned for his failure. But Ivan instead pulls his son into an embrace and tells him, “it’s ok, Son. It’s ok,” and from there Viktor finally allows years of pent-up emotions to run wild as he sobs in his dad’s arms like a wounded pit bull being comforted by its master. He finally feels his father’s love, earning a victory of sorts in defeat.
A sports drama film that included redemption for both the hero AND the villain, provided closure for one of the most memorable characters in the Rocky series and some father and son love thrown in for good measure? Man, what a film! My father was certainly impressed, his first words to me once we had walked out of the cinema was, “that was the best film I’ve seen in a long time.”
Nicely done, Sly. Nicely done.
My father and I had a rather late lunch at the mall afterwards before heading home to do some work in the backyard, planting seeds, pruning trees and watering the plants. Even as the clock nudged 4:30pm, the sun shone as brightly as it did during the morning. Summer had well and truly arrived and it was all good vibes from here.
Life was good!