'Creed II' Trailer Breakdown: Must Break You

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The ghost of Apollo Creed continues to haunt our hero in the ‘Creed’ sequel.

Let’s get this out of the way: there is no chance that Creed II comes anywhere close to replicating the quality of the original film. It may be fun, and it may have some killer moments, but I just don’t see Steven Caple Jr. rising to the challenge of Ryan Coogler. Prove me wrong, Steven. You’re the underdog in this fight, and if this franchise loves anything, it’s the underdog.

Michael B. Jordan straps on the gloves once more. No longer chasing his father’s legend, Adonis Johnson, aka Adonis Creed, fully embraces the family legacy, but he’ll find self-worth by slaying the child of the man who murdered his father in the ring. The love of Tessa Thompson is simply not enough. That’s foolish, but the curse of all men who idolize Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky Balboa.

Dolph Lundgren returns. Blink, and you’ll miss him, but the Russian puppet of Rocky IV demands vindication. I imagine that Ivan Drago’s life after getting beaten bloody in his homeland was rough. His every waking moment spent formulating a comeback. That retaliation comes in the form of Florian Munteanu as his son, Viktor Drago.

While the trailer is far from revolutionary, it does offer a few juicy moments for fans of the franchise. The film allows Donnie several opportunities to rise from a fall, and that speaks to the heart of the saga.

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We open with Donnie collapsing upon the ring. This is not a scene from the climax of the original film. When he went up against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, Creed was wearing boxing gloves with a white face versus the red face we see here. Could this shot come from the climactic battle against Drago, or one of the few warm-up fights we see later? Looking at the shorts of the opponent being escorted off ring by the referee, this knockout is courtesy of neither Conlan or Drago. Some dude with plain white trunks sends Donnie to dreamland.

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Ding. Ding. Donnie hears the bell as the world goes black, and we see him awaken before his guardian angel, Tessa Thompson. She offers him a few words of comfort, “We got this.” The image recalls Rocky II when Balboa and Apollo Creed were rushed to the hospital after their original showdown. The way Jordan quizzically looks around the room from his bed indicates a serious loss of place. It appears that Donnie’s sense of personal triumph after facing Conlan lasts very long.

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We hear Rocky spouting a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, “In the ring you got rules. Outside, you got nothing.” Creed practices alone inside the gym. It’s the age-old Rocky question: what does the hero have beyond a pair of boxing gloves? Family never seems to be enough for these guys.

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The next shot sees Wood Harris‘s Tony “Little Duke” Burton chatting over Creed’s shoulder, but the wannabe champ doesn’t hear a thing. Mentally, he’s back in front of that mirror, the internal fight proving to be the ultimate opponent.

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Rocky is still trapped in the past, spending his afternoons chatting to the graves of Paulie and Adrian. Despite a mean case of loneliness, Rock looks remarkably better than the last time we saw him struggling to make his way up the 72 stone steps that lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Rumor suggests that Stallone is making his final appearance as the Italian Stallion in Creed II, but throughout this trailer, Balboa looks to be in as good a shape as in Rocky V at least. Burgess Meredith made it to Rocky III, Stallone can at least hang around to close out this new trilogy.

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Rocky is encouraging Donnie to stay out of the ring, “You’ve got people who need you now.” The Creed family line looks to be going strong. Fatherhood will certainly mess with Donnie’s psyche, but Rocky’s son never kept him from facing down a chump in the ring, and we know that Baby Creed won’t stop her father either.

Tessa Thompson’s Bianca has inherited the wifely pain of Adrian. Hopefully, Caple Jr. will find more for her to do than look terrifyingly into a television screen while her husband is reduced to human pulp.

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“This guy is dangerous.” Face to face with his past self-made manifest in Donnie; Rocky now suffers for every time he told Adrian he didn’t have a choice.  The Champ pleads with the kid to stay away from Drago, but the warnings fall on deaf ears. The mentor will split for much of the movie, leaving Donnie to face his demons alone.

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Cut to Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA.” With no Rocky in his corner, Creed seeks strength from the blood coursing through his veins. He returns to the gym where his father trained daily.

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Revenge. The big payback. Creed vs. Drago is such a ridiculous idea, but one absolutely in keeping with the tone of the Rocky sequels. Coogler’s film was all about the son battling to free himself from his father’s shadow, and discovering that by only accepting the family mantle will he find peace.

Bianca can’t understand his lack of validation after the Conlan fight, and I’m right there with her.  Creed II stokes the fires of pride once again but suggests happiness can only be found through justice for the dead dad. Rocky morality is murky for sure.

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Creed II is required to deliver on the training montages and outside-the-box methodology. Donnie has already proven himself faster than a chicken, so it’s time to shadow box underwater.

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We saw a happier Phylicia Rashad earlier when the granddaughter was present. The trailer presses pause on Kendrick and takes a moment to slow down at this point. Donnie tells mom, “I want to re-write history.” Mrs. Creed is here to slap her kid’s ego, “Don’t pretend this is about your father.” Once Drago is in the ground, how will Apollo Creed’s presence continue to haunt Donnie? This film needs to put that motivation to bed permanently.

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A battered Donnie hides behind a pair of sunglasses. This is the result of the White Trunk brawl glimpsed at the beginning of the trailer. Paparazzi flashbulbs explode around him. With no Rocky in sight, Little Duke wheels Donnie out of the hospital.

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Here is Drago’s first actual appearance in the trailer. A killer right hook absolutely devastating Donnie’s jaw.

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Another necessary moment of any Rocky film. At the weigh-in, Donnie and Kid Drago exchange words and a good push. Damn, Florian Muteanu is a man-mountain. He’s a slab of granite come to life.

Dolph Lundgren doesn’t get much love in this trailer, but we do get a quick glimpse of Ivan pointing angrily at the Creed crew. Again, it’s Little Duke by Donnie’s side and not Rocky. Is he dead at this point, or is he waiting till the last moment to return to Donnie’s corner? We do see a brief glimpse of Rocky watching television in a bar, but that could be some clever editing to throw us off spoilers.

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“This is more than just a fight.” Keeping in tone with the opulence of Rocky IV, the final battle between Viktor Drago and Adonis Creed will have plenty of theatrical flavor. No James Brown, but we get a corridor of flames and a helluva light show.

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Kendrick Lamar’s chants of “Loyalty” disappear as Viktor Drago approaches the camera and turns his back finally revealing the name of the opponent I can’t help blathering about. Rocky IV was always a favorite of mine as a kid, but I wonder if this name actually means anything to a 2018 crowd. Does this reveal have any effect at all? Does it matter? We’re here for Donnie.

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As Donnie enters the ring, we can see a title belt slung over Little Duke’s shoulder. So, at some point during Creed II, Donnie takes the title. Maybe from White Trunks. The guy on Donnie’s left is Stitch, the cut-man from the first film. I do enjoy that continuity. Still, no Rocky though. Sniff.

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WHAM. The toughest shot in the trailer to capture. Drago is fast, and he packs a punch loaded with his disgraced father’s failings. His family let the wall fall when Rocky Balboa humiliated Ivan back in the 1980s, and his kid is seeking as much revenge against Creed as Creed is seeking against Drago.

The absurdity of this drama works for the franchise. The trick will be in Steven Caple Jr. delivering an amount of style at least on par with Coogler’s vision. I don’t really see that creative spark on display here, but there is enough to earn the price of a ticket.

Creed II hits theaters on November 21st.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.