Last evening, I watched Creed II on the night of its premiere with my brother Ronny; what a visceral experience for two longtime, hardcord fans of Sly Stallone's unrivaled, emblematic role. Over two decades, we've both enjoyed those boxing movies countless of times. We even drove to Philadelphia back in 2013, ran up the legendary steps, posed with the iconic statue, visited the actual rowhouse where The Italian Stallion makes his move on the timid Adrian and stood in awe in front of where once stood Mighty Mick’s Gym.
Just when we thought that Rocky Balboa (the sixth iteration, 2006) closed off the saga with such gusto, then came along Ryan Coogler's Creed (2015) starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky's one-time rival and best friend, effectively breathing unexpected life into the series and its beloved lore. Any fan of the overarching narrative felt right at home due in part to the exceptional synergy between the old and the new, with a particular nod to Mr Stallone’s usually & unfortunately panned, underrated performance. And I must stress just how poignant his acting becomes over time. Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa and vice versa; battle scars, mourning heart & all. Nonetheless, cast, crew and fans alike stuck it out and as a result, Creed II was immediately green-lit. Three years later almost to the day, the sequel is released and boy oh boy, what a thrilling, emotional rollercoaster it is.
This time around, they revisit the Mother Russia storyline which directly relates to our new protagonist, as Adonis’ father got beaten to literal death in Rocky IV (1985), passing away in Rocky’s arms after the former squared off against Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), the towering pride of the Soviet Union. You see, as the latest movie’s storyline explains, Drago’s legacy was flushed down the toilet by the Russian oligarchs and people alike following his defeat on their own soil at the hands of Balboa who was on a quest for revenge for the death of his sparring partner in crime. Over three decades later, Creed II opens in Ukraine where the shunned Russian fighter has been living in the slumps as a bitter and vindictive single parent to walking and talking human fridge Viktor (played by newcomer Florian Munteanu). We come to understand that the father has been on a singular mission: callously treat and train the fruit of his loins, turning him into arguably the most realistically dangerous boxer to ever grace the screen. And holy cow did casting nail it on the head with this one. I mean, 28-year-old Munteanu is a sight to behold. And to quote a certain short, stocky, slow witted bald man, “I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality”.
Now I could go on and on in detail about Creed II’s narrative and the many aspects and nods that burst out of the screen for diehard fans such as myself. Yet, this is here is not a review but an ode, a tribute, a thank you note to this unbelievably emotional sporting movie franchise with particularly unequivocal love and admiration for the man who made it all possible. The term “God” has been cheapened, used and abused over the past few years by lesser me. Fuck that noise. Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone is a God. He is the real-life Master of Disaster. Every time he has taken on the mantle of the universe’s favorite southpaw fighter, Rocky V included, the emotional strings which are pulled and the physical stings which are felt simply cannot be compared to anything else in the history of cinema. The Rocky series is brimming with inspiration and greatness; from the dialogue to the training montages, from the emotional bonds to the soundtracks (humongous shout out to composer Bill Conti for his lasting legacy), it all cascades like a symphony. And Creed II concludes a saga 42 years in the making, at least when it comes to the story of one of, if not the most beloved cinematic character of all time. Rocky Balboa will forever be synonymous with “going the distance”, the story of us men and women who are desperately trying to get a meaningful shot at something that matters.
If you haven’t experienced the Rocky franchise, do yourself a favour and when you do, savour every second, every moment, every line, every note. You will likely come out believing in a better version of self.
Thank you Mr Stallone.