I’m not ashamed to admit I welled up at the end of Creed 2. Though I’ll caveat this with the fact that I was sleep deprived and at high altitude as this was during an international ‘red eye’ flight. I cannot attest to the voracity of the Wittertainment*-described phenomenon of AALS (Altitude Adjusted Lacrimosity Syndrome) but perhaps the reader will draw their own conclusion from the points enclosed herein.
Ostensibly taking its spiritual successor to be that of Rocky IV, Creed II (or Rocky 8) pits Apollo Creed’s son (Rocky’s protégé) against Ivan Drago’s son. Apparently it’s okay to hate Russians again because Putin interfered with Trump, or something to that effect, like I said I was sleep deprived.
Though the time may be right to cash in on a toxic political climate, an inherent problem with the aforementioned setup is that the earlier film from which Creed II draws is simply the worst of all the franchise’s instalments.** While Creed I re-invigorated the whole milieu with woke characterisation and an engrossing plot, Rocky IV (or Creed minus 4) dehumanises its antagonist more than any self respecting “sports” movie has any right to, thus rendering it and therefore Creed II into pastiche.
Drago Junior is as wooden (read Iron) as Drago Senior was and continues to be. Relying on Mrs Drago to be even less human as a shortcut to character development is as painfully transparent now as it was then.
Yet for lack of a well-rounded antagonist, Creed II does understand its immediate predecessor’s success lay within the characterisation of its protagonist. It is also partially interested in the development of its young hero but still the hardships experienced by Creed Junior and his fiancée feel like lip service and are tributary to the main plot rather than complimentary.
Maybe I’m being overcritical. After all we watch Rocky movies to give us that catharsis of an everyman (albeit a “punchy” one) overcoming the odds to reach his dream and on this level Creed II delivers. Rocky’s I, II and III all contained Black antagonists and are ostensibly as problematic as a white Russian on an empty stomach at 32000 feet. Yet Apollo Creed was a believable champ, an Ali-inspired hype-man with a real family and who made actual choices. Creed II’s Drago Junior is as much a mere function as was his father.
So would my experience have been much different had I been well rested, grounded and perhaps watching on a larger screen with fewer tiredness, toilet and turbulence related intermissions? Perhaps. Yet I can’t escape the feeling that for the most part Creed II’s punches just didn’t land.***
*The “church” of which BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mark Kermode is reverend film reviewer
**Of course I thought Rocky IV was the best Rocky when I first saw it but then I was only 10 and GeoPolitics aside was up for good versus evil wherein the 5’10” Davidcould triumph against a 6’5” brick wall (read Iron curtain) read Goliath.
*** Unlike my Plane, thankfully.