There’s a formula for gripping people in a fight film; it isn’t quite the cathartic release that comes as the villain gets his 7th shade of shit knocked out of him, although that common crescendo never loses its sweet twang of satisfaction. No, the formula i’m talking about is what makes those crescendos all the more powerful. At its core, the formula I’m talking about is essentially a question: why do we fight? This question often guides the journeys taken by our protagonists, and is an effective way of making the vast majority of us relate to the struggles faced by our characters. It is so simple, yet its simplicity is what makes it so effective because it resonates with anyone fighting a battle of their own. We share in the story of our protagonists and relate our own journeys and motivations to theirs; what makes these stories all the more powerful, especially in the case of the Rocky and Creed franchises is that in the end our protagonists always overcome adversity. Given that films are one of our favourite forms of escapism it makes a lot of sense for us to get hyped up to face our own battles as we watch a fictional character overcome theirs. Creed II handles that fundamental question of why we fight brilliantly and the result is a film that is raw, emotionally-resonant and provides one of the best closures to a franchise that I’ve ever seen.
Creed II, just like Creed, revolves around family and it does this in a refreshing way. At a supposed high point in his career, Adonis hasn’t found his apex. Despite winning a world title there’s still something that just isn’t quite there. He has an amazing partner in Bianca, a father-figure in Rocky, and a high level of sporting success. What he doesn’t have is a remedy for the death of his father, Apollo. This was the main motivator for what happened in Creed and rightly-so it continues into Creed II. At this point nothing really seems refreshing, does it? We’ve had countless stories revolve around loss of family. This is where Ivan and Viktor Drago come in, and they are the key ingredient in making this otherwise familiar tale somehow feel new. Ivan Drago in this film is a real person! He’s a lot more than the grumbling man-mountain we saw in Rocky IV. The Ivan Drago we have in this film was broken by the events of Rocky IV. Following his defeat to Rocky, he was effectively ostracised from his family, his entire country and went from hero to zero overnight. In order to piece back together his tarnished legacy he decides to forge his son into a relentless killing machine (we won’t go into the clear weight-class difference between the two fighters, it’s a Creed film). This move completely makes-sense, even looking at the continuity from Rocky IV. Drago and Rocky symbolised the USSR and the USA respectively and his loss could easily be seen as a victory of America over Russia, Capitalism over Communism, McDonalds over Gulags. Drago fell from the highest of heights to the lowest depths, and out of those depths came the monstrosity that is his son. Viktor Drago was forged through pain and was coerced into believing this his manifest destiny is to avenge his fathers historic loss and restore honor to his family. The return of Ivan Drago along with his son is purposeful and this adds to its emotional resonance just as much as Dolph Lundgrens superb acting. This along with the way these two clans coalesce around regret, revenge and legacy is what makes this film feel so now. I dare say that what elevates this film beyond being just simply good is the way in which the Drago’s catalyse a journey which shows us how powerful a motivation family can be.
If there ever was a case for the importance of on-screen chemistry, it’s these two.
Creed built into Creed II and culminated in a film that feels raw. The films answers to the question “why do we fight?” comes from emotions and relationships that have been around since Rocky IV. Creed II especially takes an otherwise forgettable character in Ivan Drago and gives his story such gravity that his abusive relationship with his son gives this film the feiry intensity it clearly aimed-for. As a fan of the Rocky and Creed franchises the thing I enjoyed most about this film was the closure it provides our characters and us the audience with. The coalescence around family, legacy, regret and revenge doesn’t end in a cataclysmic explosion but with a clear eye to better horizons for all of our characters. Out of Viktor’s tantilising defeat at the films crescendo comes the realisation from Ivan Drago that he loves his son. His love for his son is more powerful than his need to re-establish his name and by throwing in the towel we literally see him cutting himself away from his demons and giving his son what he really needs: a loving father who cares for the welfare of his son. The end of the film sees the father-son duo out running once again, this time side-by-side. Viktor looks over to his father and looks back ahead, silently embracing that which he has always craved yet cannot acknowledge. Adonis also is freed from his personal demons by avenging the death of his father. I personally felt more attached to the relationship between Ivan and Viktor Drago, but it was wonderful to see Adonis finally get his closure and to enjoy his relationship with Bianca. What really came as a pleasant surprise was seeing Rocky return to his son. I must admit, this end to Rocky really made me wonder what made them give him cancer in the first-place but I digress. Earlier in the film Rocky reminisces about his son, knowingly absent in Creed and without any sort of explanation. Creed II addresses the absence of Rocky’s son somewhat- he’s an adult living his own life and Rocky, the old-fashioned Philadelphian, doesn’t want to intrude on his son’s modern life. Although their coming together was perhaps a bit rushed, I’m not willing to say that this exit for Rocky is inadequate or disrespectful. Rocky is no longer the main character in this show and to devote more screen-time to his character arc would detract from the highly-focused plot of the film. We know from earlier films that almost every significant person in Rocky’s life has passed-away. For me it was enough to finally see the old titan find some peace and tranquility in the simplicity of stepping into his son’s home. I think that’s the kind of low key bow-out Rocky himself would have asked for.
Creed II was explosive yet emotional, powerful yet vulnerable. The Creed saga has given us characters with great depth and has somehow been able to utilise the all-too-familiar Rocky formula to give us a new and captivating spin on the motivations for enduring great struggles. The triumph of our characters over their struggles is one of my favourite closures to a film series. On a personal level I felt the same satisfaction and completeness as when I first watched Return of the Jedi and got to watch through teary eyes as Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan all watched over our beloved Luke. It was wonderful to see our characters get their closure and I only now hope that the story truly ends there.