By John H. Foote
The problem with the Rocky franchise began with a Rocky IV (1985), in which Apollo Creed is killed in the ring by a massive steroid fuelled Russian, Ivan Drago, fighter Rocky goes to Russia to train before fighting the Russian, and most ridiculous, Rocky is cheered by the Communist crowd, including their President in attendance, for his courage and grit. Oh not right away, they boo the nasty American at first, but damned if Rocky does not win them over!
And yes he wins the fight.
And then, draped in an American flag, speaks to the Russians (and world apparently) about all of us getting along, not people, nations. We learn a few moments later Rock has suffered brain damage in the fight, yet he managed to give political advice just moments earlier. From there the franchise went steadily downhill. The brain damage in Rocky was gone by Rocky V (1990), in which he loses his wealth and ends up back in Philadelphia. Did Rocky not always have damage to his brain? Was he not always a little punch drunk?
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Then, surprisingly, fifteen years after the fifth installment, Stallone gave us the entirely pleasing Rocky Balboa (2006) which dealt with Rocky after the death of Adrian, quietly running a restaurant, trying to establish a relationship with his son. Not bad, not great but if this was how it ended, ok.
But then, out of nowhere, came Creed (2015), an interesting revamping and reboot of the franchise…sort of. Rather than explore Balboa further, this idea chooses to explore the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s foe and friend. Rocky became a supporting character in this film about the bastard son of Apollo Creed, taken in and raised in wealth by his wife. He becomes a boxer, rises slowly and then approaches Rocky Balboa to train him. Cue famous horns, the running montage, and suddenly son of Apollo is fighting for the championship while Rocky fights for his life with cancer.
Creed (2015) was a hit with critics and audiences, earning Sylvester Stallone his first attention from the Academy in forty years, a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Let’s be clear, he deserved to win, he should have won, the man was robbed.
So with a hit such as Creed (2015), there must be a sequel, and the makers of Creed II, mine from the absolute worst of the Rocky films, Rocky IV for their story. WHAT. WERE. THEY. THINKING? Horrible self-indulgent, elevating Balboa to a mythical hero, a political animal (Russians cheering for HIM??…in Russia?)…come on, in what universe?
This time young Creed, now recently married, a father to a child with a disability is the champion of the world, and is embarrassed into fighting a powerful Russian fighter, by the name of Drago (Florin Munteneau). Son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his father in the ring, sounds like a monster movie! See where this going? Against the wishes of his mentor and friend, Rocky, Creed fights the Russian monster without Rocky in his corner and gets his ass seriously kicked. Does he learn? Well faster than you can say obvious plot development, a rematch is set but this time Rocky is in Creeds corner. You can pretty much guess the rest, it is not difficult and surprise was never a hallmark of the Rocky, now Creed franchises.
It saddened me that the makers of Creed (2015) permitted Stallone to have a hand in writing the script because unlike the first it is bogged down with constant cliches and Rocky history.
Michael B. Jordan is terrific, again as Creed, going deeper this time, and as a husband and new father, he now has more to lose. When hammered the first time by baby Drago, he is told by Rocky not to fight again, but we know he will, he must. Jordan is failed by a script filled with cliches, one might even suggest it feels like another Rocky sequel, without meaning it kindly.
Stallone. I like Sylvester Stallone but never have I thought he was a great actor. He can be, in the right role, and does better when he does not have to say much. In the first three Rocky (76-79-82) he was outstanding, and as war veteran John Rambo in First Blood (1982) he was very good, but then they turned both characters into near mythic heroes, which became increasingly stupid. When Stallone portrayed Rocky as a supporting character in Creed (2015) he was brilliant, allowing focus to go on someone else, which seemed to free him to give a fine, deeply moving performance. I believe he deserved to win the Oscar in 2015 for his heartfelt performance but no one will ever convince me Rocky (1976) deserved Best Picture over All the President’s Men, Network or Taxi Driver. Stallone was brilliant as Rocky the first three times, very good the sixth, and superb in Creed (2015).
Not this time.
Stallone drops in to speak wisdom filled platitudes, no kidding, every sentence he utters feels like it was ripped off a Hallmark card. When did brain-damaged Rocky become so wise? It is like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), we have been told he is mentally damaged, he tells Drago broke things that are still broke, yet he is this wise Yoda like character guiding young Creed! It became very silly, very quickly.
Dolph Lundgren shows up as Daddy Drago, he still cannot act, and Bridgette Neilson makes an appearance as Drago Jr.’s mom, she can act even less. In fact, when compared to Stallone, old Sylvester comes across like Brando. Neither Lundgren or Neilson lend anything to the story.
Like cotton candy, I enjoyed watching it despite the cliches and flaws, aware it is a shadow of the first, but have not thought about it once since seeing it until writing this.
Where to go from here?
Son of Drago vs. Son of Creed on the Planet of the Apes on the Nightmare on Elm Street Back to the Future…Part Five?
If a piece of shameless propaganda junk like Rocky IV (1985) gets made, why not?
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.