It’s one of the most legendary matchups in the history of cinema; the David versus Goliath face-off in 1985’s “Rocky IV,” where Rocky Balboa is pitted against Ivan Drago, the Russian boxer who killed his friend Apollo Creed in the ring. “If he dies, he dies”—yes, that one. Thirty years after Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Carl Weathers starred in that fourth, top-ranked “Rocky” movie, the saga continued with “Creed.”
The surprise 2015 hit followed Creed’s son Adonis, played by actor Michael B. Jordan, as he’s professionally trained by an aging Balboa. Fans who’ve been praying for a Drago rematch will be happy to hear there’s one coming in the next installment, “Creed II,” only Stallone won’t be directing it as expected.
Back in October, it was announced that Stallone would be directing and producing the “Creed” sequel, but that recently changed when filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. was named as his replacement. Choosing a younger director is a decision that Jordan and Stallone made with the help of executives, leading them to Caple Jr.
The filmmaker is relatively new to directing features, known for his Sundance film “The Land,” which was sold to IFC Films. “The character of Adonis Creed reflects this generation and its challenges,” Stallone said. “I believe it’s important for the director to also be a part of this generation like I was in mine, to make the story as relatable as possible.”
It seems like a smart move, considering how the young director Ryan Coogler was able to take the “Rocky” franchise in such a new direction with “Creed.” With Coogler busy finishing up his Marvel superhero movie, “Black Panther,” Caple Jr. sounds like a great choice for “Creed II.” He was recently included on the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list of bright young stars in the Hollywood & Entertainment industry and is lined up to write an HBO miniseries based on the tragic story of Emmett Till, fourteen-year-old icon of the Civil Rights Movement.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Caple Jr. will be determining how to tackle the highly-anticipated Creed versus Drago showdown, an event that fans might be divided about, depending on when they started following the boxing series. On one side, you have original “Rocky” fans who have been watching the films since the first one was awarded a Best Picture Oscar in 1977.
They were there when Stallone highlighted the action-star movies of the 1980s, just as other actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger also dominated the big screen.
On the other, you have a new generation of “Creed” fans who are expecting another contemporary take, one that doesn’t feel stuck in its roots but still honors the spirit of the franchise. They might not be as invested in a Drago revenge as original fans might be.
Which brings us to the ultimate question: Who will Adonis Creed fight in this new movie? Stallone seemed to tease the idea that Creed might fight the original Ivan Drago himself. But Lundgren (who portrays Drago in “Rocky IV”) just turned sixty, so that scenario doesn’t seem plausible. Instead, everything now points to Creed’s rival being the son of the infamous Russian knockout machine.
Producers have been working to cast the role for Vitor Drago, a character who has been described “equally as arrogant” as Drago Sr. and driven to reclaim the pride his father lost in “Rocky IV.” So far, MMA fighter Sage Northcutt has auditioned for the part. “Got a little audition tape, so hopefully that goes through,” he said in an interview. “Being Ivan Drago’s son in the movie? That would be pretty fun.” Northcutt definitely looks the part and could make a convincing Vitor Drago. Plus, he’s spent real time in the ring, both as an MMA fighter and as a kickboxer.
Besides the son-versus-son storyline, another interesting part about this “Creed” sequel has to do with its timing. Current political tensions are eerily similar to the climate of 1985, when “Rocky IV” was released during the Cold War. The movie idea of again pitting an American boxer against a formidable Russian foe might be an opportunity to explore the U.S.-Russia relationship in a way that doesn’t stoke the fire, but perhaps reveals where characters like Creed and Drago find themselves in it.
“History will always repeat itself in one form or another,” Stallone posted on Instagram with a promotional image of Ivan Drago facing off against the younger Adonis Creed. Fans might wonder if someone needs to die again in order to make things right in this saga. Can history be any less brutal than “Rocky IV” this time around? That will prove to be a difficult task when fans are rooting for one son to obliterate the other.
The truth is that Drago’s one-sided villainy in “Rocky IV” really defines the conflict in the movie. Witnessing Creed Sr. fall at the outset of the story in such a ruthless fashion fuels Balboa’s journey, then seeing Drago maintain his bullying all the way to the bitter fight in the end makes revenge so much sweeter. “I fight to win. For me!” It’s an enjoyable ride, but Michael B. Jordan’s “Creed” is more complex than that. Good and evil is not as clear-cut. Caple Jr. might have to balance this dynamic with “Creed II” in order to bring justice to the franchise for the death of Creed’s father and to maintain the contemporary realism of the 2015 film.
For some fans, it’s probably a relief to hear that Stallone will not be directing the next film in the “Rocky” series, while others may have hoped to see Rocky Balboa himself taking the reins again on a story he began such a long time ago. In the same way that Balboa seemed to pass the boxing baton to Adonis Creed in the 2015 reboot, the movie legacy has been carried on by a new class of filmmakers who are “part of this generation,” just as Stallone has explained.
The reboot proved to be worthwhile in the end, garnering much critical praise and success at the box office, so it’s easy to imagine that “Creed II” has the potential to be just as reinvigorating for the franchise, if not more. As Jacoby Bancroft pointed out in a “Study Breaks” review of “Creed” in 2015: “In a perfect world, they would never stop making Rocky movies.”