Spoilers for Creed II
I was a big fan of Creed II, released last week, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s not as good as the first Creed and that director Ryan Coogler’s absence was definitely felt. It didn’t crescendo the way a Rocky movie should, and it was a four-act movie instead of three that doesn’t really get going until after Drago is disqualified in a match with Creed that he clearly won. It is not until then that Creed feels like a real underdog, and for nearly any sports movie to work on all levels, the protagonist needs to be a clear underdog. Getting his ass kicked by Viktor Drago finally buried Apollo Creed low enough that he had room with which to move upward.
And yet, I still found myself rooting for Viktor Drago more than made me comfortable. In fact, when Apollo and Viktor faced off for the final time, my alliances were about 55 percent Creed and 45 percent Drago. In either respect, I wanted Drago to come away from the match with at least a moral victory (which he sort of gained). There was even a part of me that had hoped that Creed and Drago would find some mutual respect for one another, though I also knew that was unlikely — Drago’s father killed Creed’s father, and it would have been nearly impossible for Creed to be able to overlook that.
Still, in nearly everything that mattered — except for physical size — it was Drago who felt like the underdog throughout much of the film. Sure, Ivan Drago killed Creed’s father, and he was much easier to root against (despite, as TK pointed out, the stellar performance turned in by Dolph Lundgren), but Viktor? Talk about a classic underdog story about a man living in the shamed shadow of his father trying to regain the respect of his country, win the affection of his mother, and escape the match without disappointing his bullying father. It’s not like Drago had a lot of resources with which to work, either: He basically Karate Kid‘d his way toward physical perfection. He essentially came from nothing except the burnt ashes of his father’s former career.
In this classic underdog film, Drago — the blue-collar kid whose father was embarrassed in the ring by Rocky Balboa — would have defeated the established, well-to-do protege of his father’s foe, and the fact that Apollo Creed had nearly everything going for him didn’t help matters. I mean, if Creed loses, he still has a supportive mother, a best friend in his trainer, a loving wife, and a newborn baby (who is deaf, but so is his wife, and I don’t know why such a big deal was made of this because you love your kid no matter what). There was a substantial part of me that wanted Drago to win, and then — in classic Better Off Dead fashion — reject his suddenly interested mother, tell his father to screw off, and embrace Creed and thank him for inspiring him to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
But there’s a reason that we felt such a pull toward Drago, and why his underdog story was so compelling. It was because a very important element from Sylvester Stallone’s original script was eliminated, as Mike Ryan learned from director Steven Caple Jr.:
The way the fight with Drago ends is surprising.
Yeah, that was changed. I changed that later. Sly had a different version. He was paying more homage to Rocky IV.
What originally was supposed to happen?
It was the whole was he on steroids thing. He would bring up these questions about how far was his dad willing to go. So, Sly was still playing with the depths of the darkness of Drago and how far he’s willing to push his ceiling, but it felt like it was a cheap shot. It felt like the steroid route, it didn’t feel like two titans were fighting.
I didn’t want it to feel like Drago just won because he was on steroids. I wanted to feel like he’s a monster. He can fight. He’s a brawler.
That makes perfect sense. I 100 percent agree with Caple’s decision to excise the steroids storyline, but I also think maybe it should have been replaced with another element in order to take Viktor Drago down a peg, at least if the classic underdog trope were going to be better utilized. I liked the existing ending, but I also felt a little bad for Viktor, and I’m not so sure that the little moment that Viktor has with his father in the end makes up for basically an entire lifetime of eating shit. Meanwhile, Creed ends the film where he begins: On top of the world. His defeat, however, might have better set up the eventual and inevitable Creed III. Without a tragic accident or the death of his wife, mother, or Rocky, it’s hard to imagine Creed as the underdog in his next film.
(Unrelated, but as an another aside, I also didn’t buy it that Creed’s mother, Mary Anne, would be in the crowd telling her son — who is getting the holy hell beaten out of him by Viktor — to “get up” after he was repeatedly knocked down, because what parent would want to watch her kid take more of a beating from a guy who very well could kill him, especially considering that Viktor’s father killed Mary Anne’s husband. Whatever else, Mom should have been yelling, “Stay down! Stay down! I don’t want you to die like your father.”)
Header Image Source: MGM