A little over two and a half years ago, Creed, a spinoff movie resetting the Rocky universe with Apollo Creed’s estranged son, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, at its center, was released. Treacherous as the proposition initially sounded, Ryan Coogler (director) and Michael B. Jordan (star) and Sylvester Stallone (costar) and Tessa Thompson (costar) delivered what today can only be described as a masterpiece; a smart, touching, inspiring, inspired story that somehow managed the gargantuan task of paying respect to the iconography of the early Rocky movies while also advancing it.
Wednesday, the trailer for Creed II was released. This is it:
It looks very good; great, even; incredible, maybe; possibly unbelievable.
It also raises some questions. Let’s answer them.
Are you scared that Ryan Coogler isn’t directing this one?
Of course. How can you not be? Coogler has already proved himself to be one of this generation’s most brilliant directors (Fruitvale Station, Creed, Black Panther), and so not having him attached as director is certainly not as favorable as if he were. But the Creed II director (Steven Caple Jr.) went to film school with Coogler, and also Coogler is listed as an executive producer, and also the trailer has a very similar feel to the trailer for Creed (the most obvious connection would be the way they reveal Drago’s name on the back of his robe, similar to how they revealed Apollo Creed’s name on the front of his boxing shorts in the Creed trailer), so it feels safe to assume that Coogler’s fingerprints will be on Creed II.
How will Creed II be set into motion?
There are several different routes it can go. The way the trailer starts—with Adonis on the canvas and then Adonis on a hospital bed with Bianca sitting near him telling him that they’re going to get through whatever it is they’re going through—suggests that the movie will start with something like one of those flash-forward scenes where we get to see how Adonis became a star following his gigantic fight against Pretty Ricky Conlan. It’ll zip through a couple of his fights that came after Creed vs. Conlan, and then it’ll show him becoming a boxing champion, and then it’ll show him getting complacent and metaphorically fat on fame and acclaim and so on and so forth. (It’ll very much be a hat-tip to Rocky III.) That’s when we’ll get dropped into the movie. We’ll see him in a championship fight that he doesn’t take seriously enough, and then we’ll see him get knocked out, and then we’ll see him in the hospital bed trying to figure out how he could’ve let it all happen. That’s how Creed II will be set into motion.
Who’s the bad guy in Creed II?
IT’S IVAN DRAGO’S SON! IVAN DRAGO’S SON IS THE BAD GUY IN CREED II! IVAN DRAGO IS THE GUY WHO KILLED APOLLO CREED IN THE RING DURING AN EXHIBITION FIGHT IN ROCKY IV AND NOW HIS SON, VIKTOR DRAGO, IS GOING TO HAVE TO ANSWER FOR HIS FATHER’S SINS AGAINST AN ANGRY, MOTIVATED, SEASONED DONNIE!* THIS IS FUCKING INCREDIBLE!**
*One of the things that’s easy to look past in Creed is that Donnie really had only one fight and a few weeks to prepare under Rocky to fight Conlan (the light heavyweight champion of the world) and still nearly beat him. You have to figure that Creed II is going to be set at least two or three years after Creed, meaning that Donnie, if he continued to learn and advance at that same pace under Rocky, will have become the greatest Rocky fighter that’s ever been.
**A wonderful little attention to detail already exhibited by the people in charge of Creed II is that the guy who’s playing Viktor Drago is 6-foot-4. (Dolph Lundgren, who played Ivan Drago, is 6-foot-5.) Viktor will tower over Donnie (6-foot), the same way Ivan towered over Rocky. I mean, look how goddamn big he looks here punching Donnie. He might as well be 10 feet tall, really.
Will Donnie kill Viktor Drago in the ring?
No. But he will beat him. In a conversation with Bill Simmons about this on Wednesday, Simmons brought up a good possible story line: Donnie loses his championship belt to whomever it is he’s fighting at the beginning of the movie. Then Viktor Drago beats the guy who beat Donnie and so then he’s the champion. Then Donnie fights Viktor Drago and not only earns back the belt, but also finally avenges his father’s death.
I would guess that it plays out a little differently, though, mostly because the trailer has the phrase “There’s more to lose than a title.” I would guess that Donnie loses his title, then he has a breakdown, then there’s a scene with Donnie and either Rocky or Bianca in which they explain to him how, despite eventually earning a championship belt, he still never felt whole and so maybe that means he should stop chasing validation from the outside world and start looking at what it is in his chest that makes him feel like he’s not good enough, not worthy enough, not worthwhile enough. And that somehow becomes him fighting Viktor Drago in a fight that ends up being way more than just a boxing match.
What’s going to be Creed’s main motivation in Creed II?
To extend the point above, it’s going to be the same that it was in the first movie: proving that he wasn’t a mistake. He’ll try to take it and spin it so that he’s fighting to avenge his father’s death (and that’ll be a tiny bit true), and also he’ll try to spin it so that it becomes a thing where he feels like the people who are supposed to believe in him don’t anymore (and that’ll be a little bit true, too). But all of that will spiral its way back to how Creed is still trying to outrun feeling like he doesn’t have a legitimate place in the world.
What’s a minor part of the story you’d like to have revealed this second?
Is Donnie a husband and father now? Is that what the one quick shot means where he takes a baby girl from Bianca and holds her while his mother is in the background? And if so, does that mean we’re getting Dad Strength Donnie? Because if that’s the case, there’s no fucking way he’s losing to Viktor Drago. Donnie legit might punch a hole through his chest if he activates his dad strength.
What’s the one scene you’re going to recreate from Creed II first?
The scene in Creed that I tried to recreate as soon as I got the chance was the one where he’s running through the streets with the dirt bikes riding all around him. (Two of my sons have motorized scooters. I had them ride them around me while I jogged down the street. It looked not nearly as cool.) For Creed II, it’s going to be the underwater shadow-boxing scene. I will be at our neighborhood pool this afternoon during the 15-minute adult swim time in the deep end of the pool trying to do exactly what Donnie is doing above. I can’t wait to look like an idiot.
What’s a major part of the story you’d like to have revealed this second?
Will Rocky step down as Donnie’s trainer? It feels like that definitely happens, right? Donnie and Rocky have that talk where Rocky is trying to explain to Donnie that there are things that are more important than boxing, that there are people who need him to be something more permanent than a boxer; they need him to be a son, and a husband, and a father. “Learn from my mistakes,” Rocky will probably plead, pointing out his own wrecked relationship with his only son.
But Donnie won’t see it as insight. He’ll see it as doubt. They’ll have a big argument about it. Rocky will say something to Donnie like, “If you’re going to go through with this, I can’t be a part of it.” Donnie will buck back and tell him that it’s fine, that he’ll find someone else. And then they’ll separate.
(This is why you see that it’s Tony “Little Duke” Burton in the background of a bunch of shots in the trailer. He’s Donnie’s new trainer.)
(FYI: Tony “Little Duke” Burton is the character being played by Wood Harris. He’s Tony “Duke” Evers’s son.)
(Another FYI: Tony “Duke” Evers was Apollo’s trainer. He was there the night that Apollo got punched to death by Drago. In Creed, “Little Duke” refused to train Donnie because he didn’t want what happened to Apollo to happen to his son. I’ll bet we get a scene in Creed II in which, after Rocky and Donnie part ways, Donnie goes back to Little Duke and tries to get him to train him again. Little Duke will decline, but then Donnie will tell him that he’s fighting Ivan Drago’s son, and that’s how he’ll convince Little Duke to train him.)
(Also: Rocky won’t permanently abandon Donnie. It’ll be a temporary thing. Rocky will show up right before the fight to support Donnie.)
What’s an even more major part of the story line you’d like revealed this second?
Will this be the movie where Rocky finally dies?
It has to be coming.
They’re positioning the Creed franchise as the new Rocky franchise. And the Rocky franchise has been around for more than 40 years. Stallone’s Rocky has to die off sooner or later. And how perfectly heartbreaking would it be if Donnie went on to beat the son of the man who killed his father, only to lose the man who stepped into the dad role for him in the process?