The offspring of Rocky’s nemesis, Ivan Drago, faces off against Adonis Creed in Steven Caple Jr.’s generational sequel, Creed II.
When Creed was released in 2015 to universal acclaim and huge box office success, director Ryan Coogler pulled off the impossible by rebooting the Rocky franchise and punching it into the 21st century. In one corner, he introduced Michael B. Jordan’s hot young contender Adonis Creed while, in the other corner, returning Sly Stallone to the emotional heart of the story as the one and only Rocky Balboa.
In short, Coogler created movie magic, returning a beloved franchise for a new generation, many of whom weren’t even born when Rocky became 1976’s highest-grossing film, nominated for ten Oscars, and launching the career of its then unknown star and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone.
Basking in the success of Creed, Coogler’s career was propelled into the stratosphere with Black Panther and now busy on Black Panther 2, he was unable to direct the Creed sequel.
Stallone was all set to helm Creed II but when he stepped down, producers struggled before ultimately hitting on young filmmaker Steven Caple Jr., deemed by all as worthy of carrying the torch.
Meeting with the cast in Philadelphia, Jordan tells STACK of his enormous confidence in Caple’s direction.
“When the timing didn’t work out for Ryan Coogler to return and he suggested Steven – somebody he knew and trusted and who is also of our generation – I was excited.”
Inheriting Coogler’s well-oiled cast was daunting for Caple. “I’m a huge fan of the Rocky series and wanted to make sure it was up to par,” he says. “I was allowed to make the film stick out and ultimately stand alone.”
Having received Coogler’s blessing, meeting with Stallone was the next hurdle.
“The studio drove me up to his huge mansion where he talked about fights and poetry,” Caple recalls. “I saw the filmmaker and the artist in him; that this dude is really excited about the franchise and, after 40+ years, he still has new ideas.”
“And to feed off Sly’s energy, just felt very good.”
If Creed plunged into Rocky’s legacy of parenthood and fathers-and-sons, then Stallone had already begun imagining Creed II’s storylines.
“It’s about the sins of the father, and that Adonis isn’t the only son carrying the weight of a legacy,” says Stallone. “So I considered some questions: what if Ivan Drago had a son? What kind of legacy did he inherit? I thought this would be an interesting theme, sort of Shakespearean in its arc but also a melding of two different generations and popular characters.”
Enter Dolph Ludgren’s Ivan Drago, Rocky’s original nemesis – but now with his own grown-up son, Viktor, raised on a diet of hatred and eager to avenge his father.
Using his own family dynamics as inspiration, Caple says, “I was just pulling stuff from the Drago father and son and feeling the pressure, something that happened between me and my own father who I‘m recently just talking with these last few years. It was bumpy at first but then it became an easy connection for me”.
If the two Rocky veterans spew hatred on screen then, privately, they have always been in one another’s corners – Stallone inviting Lundgren to co-star in three instalments of The Expendables.
“I hadn’t seen Sly in many years when I ran into him and we had a couple of tequila shots, and then he gave me a big hand-painted poster from Rocky IV,” recalls Lundgren, 61, whose Creed II screen son is played by Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu.
“Since then, we’ve been pretty close. He’s my closest friend in the business.”