Why Remaking Rocky IV Undoes Creed
There was always a fear Creed would repeat Rocky's downward spiral of self-imposed reverence in the face of ridiculous plot turns with its sequels, and it now looks like it's not only doing that but skipping to the fourth step of a five-point journey to failure.
Creed set up an exciting story, one that uniquely felt grounded in real-life Philadelphia. We had Adonis becoming part of the Creed family while making a name for himself outside the specter of nepotism, and on a more delicate level saw his burgeoning friendships and romance with Rocky and Bianca, respectively. Of course, this was in many ways remaking the original Rocky, grafting a spinoff onto its broad plot points. However, like The Force Awakens was A New Hope's plot but with different characters, the inference of Creed and the thematic importance to him fighting - and losing - is shifted to be something more emotionally nuanced and personal. It was a different film, and set up a different journey. So while at first glance to remake or directly sequelize Rocky IV with Creed 2 may seem like a logical continuation of Apollo's legacy, for Adonis to try and actively avenge his father's death is blunt force emotional atonement.
But it also damages that thematic retcon by directly re-canonizing Creed's death and robbing it of legitimacy: to have a boxer die in the ring is shocking and real; to have it be done in slow motion by a psychopath is neither. It will be hard to bring back Drago without evoking the latter and thus the move goes directly against what was done in Creed. There, Apollo's death was a painful reminder of the dangers of the profession but crucially a faceless one; it was no specific punch or puncher that could bring you down. Making Ivan or Vitor a tangible foe risks having everything Adonis has been through trivialized to the level of family feud.
Is this what we want from a Rocky movie? The best entries in the franchise are the ones that prioritize the internal conflict over the external: the original Rocky is about him proving himself, with Apollo simply a reason for why you'd have an amateur boxer vying for the title; the sequel is about living up to the expectations set as much as taking down a vengeful Creed. In contrast, the more pulpy entries are obsessed with how big and bad the opponents are - Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago and even Tommy Gunn - often to a detriment. Who was the villain in Creed? In Balboa? The modern foes are ancillary to the journey of the heroes, obstacles to overcome in their more personal journey (and, again, allowing us to escape a remake of the story). There's a lot to be said about a great villain, and Rockys III-V are at the least memorable because of that, but for the grounded realism of the four-decade-old franchise, they're not necessary.
Is There A Way Bringing Back Drago Could Work For Creed 2?
Just because an idea doesn't immediately seem the best doesn't mean it won't lead to a good movie, and there are still ways Creed 2 can use Drago and make it work. First up, you can flip it, making Adonis the champion and Drago the underdog; our hero is the aggressor and the conventional bad guy the actual point of relation. This would provide a fitting twist on the franchise, and is involved enough to provide enough new context to potentially bypass how it hinges on the campy death of Apollo. Although, if this is the case, why would they cast such an untested actor for what would have to be a rather carefully delivered performance?
There is also an intriguing thematic aspect that could be explored by having a Russian foe from a prior generation re-emerging beyond regurgitating the past. The Cold War may be over, but the threat of Russia looms large, specifically in reference to consistent allegations about their involvement in the election and subsequent government of President Donald Trump. To bring Drago back now is an opportunity to provide comment on the wider landscape or, at the very least, offer some old-fashioned escapism. That said, the idea has been in place since before Trump was even the Republican candidate in the 2016 election, so any parallels would be purely accidental and thus casual at best.
Creed 2 had a lot stacked in its favor and you don't need bookies odds to feel confident saying it will be a hit. The first film has only grown in stature since its release and the team behind the sequel aren't slouches, Coogler or no. But it's definitely chosen a needlessly hard fight. Sequels deviating from expectations are no bad thing, but they need to still honor what's came before. Returning to Drago and providing a physical representation of Adonis' lost father to simply punch opens up a situation where victory does, in some form, feel like it depends on who wins in the ring. Rocky's come back from being on the ropes before. Let's hope in its hubris there won't be a K.O.
- Creed 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018