It’s almost admirable that with this second installment of the Creed franchise (and the now the eighth movie to feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa), the creative team behind the film would just go ahead and decide, “Oh, screw it, let’s go ahead and bring Drago back.” This saves us from some dumb mid-credit scene, where we see an older Ivan Drago watching Adonis Creed win a fight on some old CRT television, and then as we pan up to his face, Drago mutters, “I will break you, too” – setting up some fight we might see three movies later. Creed II spares us the drawn out, manufactured drama and just takes us straight to the action. In that way, Creed II feels pleasantly refreshing with its retro-ness.
When we look back at the six Rocky films (that somehow span 30 years, from 1976 until 2006), it’s pretty remarkable there’s only one truly bad movie out of the lot. Rocky won a Best Picture Oscar in an incredibly stacked year; Rocky II was a letdown, but still watchable and has a great ending, Rocky III is a ton of fun and might be the most underrated of the franchise; Rocky V is terrible; and Rocky Balboa is a lot better than it needed to be (and made a lot more money than anyone expected).
Rocky IV has always been the strange outlier of the Rocky films. Maybe because it’s the only Rocky film not to be scored by Bill Conti (Vince DiCola would get those duties). But it’s more likely because it’s the movie where Rocky Balboa became a superhero, with a sidekick robot, who won the Cold War. He wasn’t just some dumb schlub from Philly anymore. He was Superman. Rocky IV is a ludicrous movie that is so preposterous that it’s impossible not to have fun watching. Plus, it’s got the best soundtrack of the original films. Yes, “Eye of the Tiger” is a defining song from Rocky III, but Rocky IV gave us Survivor’s “Burning Heart,” James Brown’s “Living in America,” Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out,” and John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire.” Rocky IV is basically, “The 1980s At It’s Most Ridiculous, The Movie.”
(True story, a few months ago I was out at a bar with a friend and I played “No Easy Way Out” on the jukebox for no particular reason and I heard a very enthusiastic guy at the other end of the bar cry out, “Hey, from Rocky IV! So I played “Burning Heart” next and he yelled out, “Wow, another, Rocky IV song! What is happening?!” After I played the remaining two, I’m pretty sure this man had an aneurysm.)
The reason I went into all that was that it’s also a bizarre decision that Creed II would want to jump into the world of Rocky IV after the first Creed was so grounded in realism and universally praised. (At least the Rocky franchise had Rocky III to kind of bridge the gap between realism and absurdity.) If Creed is a spiritual sequel to the first Rocky, then Creed II is a direct spiritual sequel to Rocky IV. And, dammit, they pulled it off.