Creed II is this year’s Last Jedi

Creed II is a mess. It’s also amazing. And infuriating. Much like Last Jedi, Creed II left me feeling frustrated when I left the theater. And like Last Jedi, there were great parts (everything boxing related), dull parts (everything family related), and wasted potential splattered everywhere.

Creed vs Drago

“I see three of him out there!”

Imagine cramming Rocky II, III, and IV into a single movie. That’s the chief problem with Creed II. It’s everything all at once–not to mention heavily derivative. Rocky II’s marital drama makes a reappearance alongside III’s “enemy is thyself” inner journey. The true conflict, however, comes from the return of IV’s iconic Russian villain Ivan Drago. That’s what sold tickets, or at least my ticket.

Sadly, Creed II doesn’t focus on Adonis vs. Drago Jr. enough. After the original Creed (2015) succeeded despite having an underwhelming villain, I hoped the return of the Dragos would make for an electric sequel.

But, nope. Not the case here. The plot hits many snags as it tries to tell a predictable story of Adonis adjusting to family life and struggling not to make the same mistake his father made (taking on a lethal opponent in the ring). While the Creed family is likable, nothing about this aspect of the story surprised me or impressed me. It felt mailed-in while the true drama went to waste in the background.

Creed II constantly robs the view of suspense and emotional build-up. Want to watch Adonis strive for the heavyweight title? Too bad, he wins it easily in the first ten minutes. Want to see him fight to win his girlfriend’s hand in marriage? Too bad, she accepts and then fails to adequately challenge him throughout the rest of the movie. If you’ve seen Rocky II, you’ve seen this all before, and the execution this time around does nothing to make it feel fresh. The expected outcomes arrive and the movie meanders toward its midpoint while Adonis vies against the son of the man who killed his father.

“Throw the damn towel!”

Let me be upfront about one thing. I’m obsessed with Rocky IV. Despite its countless flaws, I love it to death. So when Adonis learned that Viktor Drago wanted to fight him, the movie seemed primed to erupt.

Instead, it kind of rumbled. Rocky takes a pass on training Adonis despite wishing he’d thrown the white towel in the Apollo/Drago fight. Adonis’ mother–who watched Papa Drago murder her husband in the ring–gives hardly any pushback following Adonis’ decision. And Adonis? His struggles felt tame as a result.

Viktor Drago
Creed II succeeded in making two charismatic villains

Then the midpoint fight arrives. Adonis gets destroyed in the most important battle of his life. It looks like we’re headed for a heated second half full of emotion and guts–

Until everything ices up as the family drama returns full-force. We watch Adonis limp–literally and figuratively–through the next thirty minutes. Instead of building himself back up and training hardcore to redeem himself and his late father, he becomes a father and spends a lot of screen time in the hospital and babysitting. Obviously the director wanted to send a message on the value of family over pride, but it cost the movie a clear focus and narrative momentum. By the time the training montage arrives, it feels jarring. Even the hype for the inevitable rematch is nonexistent.

Creed II defeats itself by trying to be multiple movies at once, much like Last Jedi tried to be Empire and Return of the Jedi. The end result is the same. You have a bloated story with agonizing pacing issues and diluted emotional payoff.

Going into Creed II, I knew it wouldn’t be Rocky IV. And it didn’t need to be. But what sickens me is how a mouth-watering scenario like Creed vs Drago 2.0 went to waste in the background while I sat through a remake of Rocky II.

“I must break you.”

And yet, there is one saving grace. The Dragos. Considering how natural it was to hate Ivan Drago, I never expected he or his muscle-monster son to be remotely likable. And yet they won me over. The writers did a phenomenal job showing Viktor Drago working his way up from nothing and battling through the stigma that his father’s defeat left him with. This, of course, is what made the original Creed a great movie, and it was especially refreshing to see the Dragos matter not just as obstacles, but as human beings. And without spoiling, let me just say that the the movie’s climactic moment was worth the price of admission all its own.

Creed II isn’t a bad movie by any stretch. It isn’t great either. All the pieces were in place for something phenomenal, but the problem was there were too many pieces. Had they polished up the family drama here and saved the Drago storyline for Creed III, we might’ve gotten two great movies. Instead, we’ll have to settle for sloppy sequel..

 

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