'Creed II' Looks to Overcome the Past

The film draws upon the nostalgia of 'Rocky IV,' but the trailer maintains the grounded nature Ryan Coogler established three years ago.

MGM has stepped back into the ring with the release of the first trailer for Creed II. Creed (2015), a continuation of the Rocky (1976) franchise, focused on Apollo Creed’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) and his rise in the boxing world, while positioning Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as his mentor. The film, directed by Ryan Coogler, received critical acclaim, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and made $173.6 million on a $40 million budget. In other words, Creed came out swinging.

Creed put Coogler on the radar of Marvel Studios and led to him landing the directing gig on Black Panther, which saw him reteam with Michael B. Jordan for a third time. Although Coogler did not return to direct Creed II, he is onboard as executive producer. Stepping into the spotlight as director is newcomer Steven Caple Jr., whose previous film The Land, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. While the lack of Coogler’s direction may give some film fans pause, it’s worth pointing out that Coogler was in the same position as Caple was when he took on Rocky’s iconic legacy following his feature film debut with the Sundance hit Fruitvale Station (2013). Coogler has become a sensation in the past couple years, and if Creed II is as good as this teaser trailer lets on, then Steven Caple Jr. has a fighting chance of finding similar success.

Although Stallone was set to write and direct the film himself, having written all six entries of the Rocky franchise and directed three of those, discussions between Stallone and Jordan reached the conclusion that it was important that the film maintain the black point of view of the first. Coogler’s film worked so well because it didn’t feel like a cash-grab spin-off, but a deeply personal story of a young man trying to come to terms with his own legacy in the face of a father who abandoned him. Creed is steeped in blackness, and the Philadelphia it presented carried that identity in its bones, from locations, language, food, and music composed by frequent Coogler collaborator Ludwig Goransson, who returns to compose the sequel. From an aesthetic standpoint, Caple looks to have maintained a similar texture and perspective of the first film, even as the story looks to raise the stakes. Co-written by Stallone and Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, the film sees Adonis Creed struggling to balance his personal life and his career as a boxer when the two collide as he faces his most personal opponent.

Adding a new wrinkle to Adonis’s questions of legacy is his and Bianca's (Tessa Thompson) newborn daughter. With Bianca trying to jumpstart her music career before she loses her hearing, and Adonis readying for his next fight, it will be interesting to see how they also balance the responsibilities of parenthood. As the byproduct of his father Apollo’s (Carl Weathers) affair, Adonis’ issues with abandonment drove the emotional beats of the first Creed. With a child of his own, perhaps the biggest question Adonis faces this time around is whether or not he can move past his father’s death in order to be there for his daughter and Bianca. As Rocky tells him, he’s got everything to lose.

Not only does Rocky Balboa, seemingly recovered from the cancer that almost took his life in the previous movie, have to confront Adonis as a mentor, but as a father-figure as well. The first film’s tagline “your legacy is more than a name” refers not only to the legacy of Apollo Creed but that of Rocky, and it’s a responsibility that is more than heavyweight titles and reputation. Apollo Creed died in Rocky’s arms after he faced Soviet prize boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), in the events of Rocky IV (1985) and Rocky has always felt responsible for it. In Creed II, he’s confronted with an opportunity to save Adonis where he failed to save his father when Drago resurfaces. Rocky has remained endearing, because he’s a lovable loser who takes the punches and wins for trying. But getting Adonis to turn away from the vengeance he seeks may be a battle that Rocky will lose.

The end of the teaser reveals who Adoni will be facing, Ivan Drago's son Viktor (Florian Munteanu), who may be just as brutal as his father, if not more so. Creed II is really digging its heels in on the Rocky IV connections, a film that a number of the franchise’s fans see as the point where the series veered off track. Despite the emotional gut-punch of Apollo’s death in that film, Rocky IV feels like an '80s pastiche where Rocky becomes more action hero than vulnerable human being. While not a bad film by any means, it is a film that sees Rocky’s defeat of Drago unite the U.S. and the Soviet Union before he's draped in an American flag while delivering a speech about humanity’s ability to change.

Rocky IV touched the realm of fantasy, but Creed II looks to maintain this new series’ grounded nature even when playing to nostalgia. This showdown between sons that Creed II is setting up as its main event seems authentic and tonally in line with the journey the previous film established. As long as Mr. T’s Clubber Lang doesn’t show up to set up the next film, then Adonis’ battle against Viktor is a necessary step in him becoming his own man and champion in a franchise that hopefully lasts as long as Rocky’s. “This is more than just a fight,” Adonis says and it is. This is the point where Creed as a character and as a franchise, will either fight its way out of the shadow of the past or be consumed by it. Either way, Creed II looks ready to pack a punch.