Creed II (or Rocky 8) is a stand-alone story about a boxer named Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) who fights by the name of “Adonis Creed,” the son of the late Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) from the first four Rocky movies. Apollo died in the ring from the fists of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a boxer from the Soviet Union. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeated Drago in an epic 15 round battle and the Soviet Union collapsed.
Thirty three years later, Adonis Creed has become champion, creating a marketing opportunity for Ivan Drago, whose life has been miserable since losing to Rocky Balboa in 1985. Drago has trained his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to become a fighter and sets the stage for a Creed-Drago rematch. (The original fight occurred when the current combatants were in diapers). This, of course, opens up some old psychological wounds for both Donnie Johnson Creed and Rocky Balboa.
The stage is set and Creed II takes this complicated history and forges a simple story. It helps to have seen the other seven Rocky movies in advance, but it is not necessary. Creed II is a unique story about individuals trying to solve problems in their own lives. It is a film of little moments that create a whole satisfactory experience.
For example, there is a subtle nod to Rocky’s illness from the last movie when Donnie compliments his mentor’s new hairstyle. In Creed, Rocky underwent chemotherapy treatment and lost most of his hair. While still intimidating and brutal, Ivan still has a little boy vulnerability about him, especially when his ex-wife (Brigitte Nielsen — who happens to be Stallone’s ex-wife also) appears.
There are plenty of boxing scenes in the movie with the usual inspirational training montage. Being a Creed and not a Rocky movie, the music used in this film plays homage to Ennio Morricone’s work in the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. But don’t worry, the original Rocky musical cue is used at the precise moment.
It is these subtle details of the past that enhance the world of Adonis Creed, who is going through the rites of passage with the love of his life, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Besides battling the demons of the past, Creed II looks at the importance of familiar responsibilities in the present moments. Creed, Balboa and Drago each face a challenge in their own family unit. Creed II provides a fascinating denouement that is appropriate for this holiday season.