Creed 2 is one of the most anticipated movies of 2018, but as it moves towards production there are signs it could wind up being a major misfire for the already hit-and-miss Rocky franchise. That we're still excited about the Italian Stallion in 2018, 42 years after John G. Avildsen's initial Oscar winner, is a feat in and of itself, and almost entirely down to the first Creed. Thanks to writer-director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan as the illegitimate son of original antagonist Apollo Creed, the sequel/spinoff went the distance, rejuvenating the long-tired franchise.
Naturally, after critical and box office success (as well as a major awards run by Sylvester Stallone for his turn as an aging Rocky Balboa), a sequel is on the way. Creed 2 is set for a November 21, 2018 release, with Jordan and Tessa Thompson back to star and Steven Caple Jr. directing a script written by long-standing scribe Stallone (also acting) and Luke Cage's Cheo Hodari Coker. Aside from Coogler only coming back as executive producer due his commitments redefining the superhero with Black Panther, everything looks good. Well, mostly.
Stallone has threatened that Creed 2 would be a Rocky IV follow-up pretty much since the idea of a new series was floated, teasing that Adonis would be taking on the son of Ivan Drago. However, we never truly took it seriously due to the innate ridiculousness of the concept. But, now, it's truly happening, and not even in a background sense. Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu has been cast as Vitor Drago, presumed to be the primary villain of Creed 2 alongside a returning Dolph Lundgren as Ivan. This is confirmation of a worrying step, one that risks everything that's come into place for the sequel and could undo the original reboot.
How Creed Saved The Rocky Franchise (This Page)
How Creed Saved The Rocky Franchise
Before Creed, Rocky was done. Completely done. Over the 1980s, the series had gone from Oscar-winning icon to a joke, with each subsequent formulaic movie relying more on exaggerated bravado until the entire thing imploded with 1990's Rocky V. Of course, that was what happened to franchises in the past - notable exceptions aside, they got cheaper and more rudimentary as they doubled-down on the pre-existing audience - but it nevertheless marred the entire legacy.
Rocky IV best emblemizes this. It pits the World Champion against 'roided up Russian Drago in a metaphorical Cold War bout after Apollo (now Rocky's friend) is somewhat comically battered to death in the ring, and by way of far too many montages, culminates with Rocky basically ending the global conflict with an emotional speech. Also, there's a robot butler because this was 1986. It's an enjoyable film if viewed on an ironic level, and most of the creaks are admittedly due to the passage of time, but there's no getting away from how essential it was in, regardless of box office success, undermining the core of the franchise.
That's a big part of what makes Creed such a success. 2006's Rocky Balboa had already tried to reframe the later films in a more melancholic light, killing off Adrian and investing much of its runtime in correcting V's more-than-a-little-flawed father-son dynamic, but it was the decade-later soft reboot that really did the heavy lifting. Creed basically retconned Rocky IV from being cheesy 80s relic to essential, emotive part of Rocky and Adonis' past in a very grounded world. Not least, it reshaped Apollo's death, giving it a retroactive weight that powered his son's attempts to earn the family name.
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This wasn't just a movie that brought a franchise back, it made what had come before better and opened up a new, forward-focused direction for the old-in-the-tooth series. And that is why the Drago development is so worrying.
- Creed 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018