Once perhaps our most persistent pastime, going to the movies has become a rare treat for Jaclyn and me in the post-Miles era, largely due to the added cost of employing a babysitter for such excursions (like, am I really going to shell out upwards of fifty bucks to see another Transformers movie??? Although that new Bumblebee joint looks slick as hell…).
Anyway, with the long-awaited potential for some “free” babysitting (as in free to us, if not the grandparents tasked with it) suddenly upon us, I declared that we would be partaking of not one, but two movies over the holiday weekend. The first was Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which we saw Friday night. The second was Creed II. While the first was a great film, it was the second that tapped into that feeling I’ve become increasingly sensitive to — let’s call it the paternal feels.
It’s no surprise that the first Creed dealt with themes of legacy and lineage, given that its protagonist is Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed from the original Rocky series. However, while the first movie was about Adonis living up to the name of a father he never knew, Creed II is much more a story about fathers and their children, with all members present and accounted for.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!
So you’ve got Adonis, now the heavyweight champion of the world but still feeling the pressure of his family name thanks to the return of a classic villain. On top of this, Adonis himself is now a father, trying to find a balance between his duties as a parent and the fact that he isn’t some punk who’s going to walk away from a fight. There’s the requisite scene in which dad is left home alone with baby in all his substantial ineptitude. The sequence, which begins, of course, with the baby crying as soon as her mother leaves, ends with a crushed and defeated (in more ways than one) Adonis at the gym, screaming and punching as his deaf daughter sits in her carrier nearby. While the movie seems to forget that the baby exists by the time its climax rolls around (Don’t even ask me who was babysitting during that climactic fight! Also why does the baby’s nursery look like the stairwell in a fallout shelter?), one of the most memorable images in the movie is a shot of the Apollo mural in the gym, Adonis standing in front of it, and his own daughter Amara (why not Apollonia???) in front of him. It tells the story of Adonis’s entire arc without a line of dialogue being uttered.
You’ve also got Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion himself, who, after surviving his cancer scare in the first movie, is now generally a sad sack living alone and calling the power company just to feel any sort of human connection (more or less). He is estranged from his own son, Robert Jr. and refuses to reach out to him, feeling that if Bobby ever wants to talk, he’ll reach out. Rocky’s relationship with Adonis is also tested and this, along with the birth of Adonis’s daughter, really puts Rock against the ropes so to speak. He spends most of the movie lamenting his family and, with Adonis’s own family established and happy by the film’s end, he finally reconnects with his son (and grandson!) at the film’s finale. It’s a bit melodramatic, but Stallone and Milo Ventimiglia absolutely sell the scene and give the movie the ending it really needs.
Then you’ve got returning villain Ivan Drago and his son, Viktor. Like most Soviets of lore, Ivan has raised his son with the sole intent of turning him into a relentless killing machine. Ivan’s evidently spent the boy’s entire life funneling every revenge fantasy he’s ever had into him, pushing Viktor to train tirelessly (those battle rope pushups!) just to redeem his family name (essentially the antithesis of Adonis’s boxing trajectory). While the relationship between Ivan and Viktor is largely one-note (Viktor MAYBE has as many lines in this as Arnold Schwarzenegger did in the first Terminator), there’s still a payoff at the end of Creed II that was actually a bit unexpected and, like Rocky’s, necessary for the movie to really land. To the extent that their story can be considered an arc, the Dragos get a satisfying sendoff.
The point in all of this is that by the end of the movie, everyone — Adonis, Rocky, and Ivan — has learned something about being a parent. They understand that living up to the role of fatherhood is more important than living up to the legacy that created you…that fear of a beatdown in the ring is rendered minuscule by the fear that one might fail as a parent…that projecting your own inadequacies on the next generation can only lead to failure and resentment. For me, this movie was ultimately about more than seeing Adonis Creed win a boxing match. It was about seeing a few onscreen fathers make themselves a bit better. I’ll never box, but I do hope I can always strive to be the best dad I can be.