‘Creed II’ ex­pands upon its ‘Rocky’ le­gacy

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - Bryan Alexan­der

Spoiler alert! This story dis­cusses Ivan Drago’s full char­ac­ter arc in ‘Creed II.’ Stop read­ing now if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know.

Three decades af­ter fall­ing to Rocky Bal­boa (Sylvester Stal­lone) in “Rocky IV,” dis­graced Rus­sian killing ma­chine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lund­gren) is back for re­venge in “Creed II.”

It’s a meal best served af­ter many cold Ukrainian win­ters.

With his bru­tal son Vik­tor (Florian Mun­teanu) do­ing the fight­ing, ice­hearted Drago chal­lenges Ado­nis Creed (Michael B. Jor­dan), the son of box­ing leg­end Apollo Creed, who was killed by Drago in the “Rocky IV” ring.

Lund­gren, 61, says “Creed II” (in the­aters now) pays homage to his clas­sic villain, be­fore it changes the course of Drago’s his­tory.

“‘Rocky IV’ was like, ‘We’re in a nu­clear stand-off with Rus­sia, we need this bad guy with­out lay­ers,’ ” says Lund­gren. “I was pleased to play a char­ac­ter with a lit­tle more emo­tion and more rounded than the first.”

Se­ri­ously, this is your last chance to stop read­ing. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Drago was def­i­nitely go­ing to ‘break’ some­thing.

Di­rec­tor Steven Caple Jr. knew he had to work in Drago’s “I must break you” ut­ter­ance into the new movie.

“It’s such a clas­sic line, but we couldn’t have Drago say, ‘I must break you. Again,’ ” Caple says. “We had to find a way that re­ally sung.”

Af­ter try­ing many vari­a­tions, it landed with Drago telling Rocky: “My son will break your boy.”

Drago also shoves Vik­tor’s mouth­guard into his jaws to push him dur­ing the Ado­nis fight, say­ing, “You must break him.”

The Rocky-Drago re­match in fact hap­pened, then was cut.

Af­ter Vik­tor pum­meled Ado­nis in the film’s first char­ity bout, Caple filmed a hospi­tal show­down be­tween Rocky and Drago. The in­for­mal re­match makes sense on pa­per: “You’d hear the fans say, ‘Oh, man, they need to fight.’ ”

But it didn’t work. “It was push­ing the limit of how far we stepped into ‘Rocky IV,’ ” Caple says. “We made that ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion to cut it. No one wanted to force it.”

Drago throws in the towel on his cold heart.

In “Rocky IV,” Rocky holds off on throw­ing in the towel to end the ul­ti­mately tragic Drago-Apollo fight. Apollo told Rocky not to stop the fight, no mat­ter what. And he died.

The still-haunted Rocky con­sid­ers toss­ing in the towel dur­ing the “Creed II” Vik­tor-Ado­nis show­down as his pro­tege is pum­meled. But Ado­nis, like his fa­ther, for­bids the move be­fore turn­ing the ta­bles.

When Vik­tor then is crushed by Ado­nis, for­mer killing-ma­chine Drago sur­ren­ders, throw­ing the bloody towel to end the fight.

“Drago is the last guy in the world you’d ex­pect to throw in the towel, so it’s pow­er­ful,” Lund­gren says. “But my son’s life is at stake.”

The end dove­tails per­fectly with “Rocky IV” and gives a new view of a Drago with heart. He even emo­tion­ally tells his los­ing son that he’s proud for the first time. It’s a very dif­fer­ent view of his past vil­lainy and his own lonely Rocky de­feat.

“Af­ter he saw it, Dolph came up to me af­ter­ward in tears he was so happy with it,” says Caple.

Drago al­ways was go­ing to show emo­tion in ‘Creed II.’

Caple says Drago, who spoke only nine lines in “Rocky IV,” was al­ways go­ing to dis­play emo­tion in “Creed II.” But he cut out ear­lier glimpses of heart.

“I re­al­ized dur­ing the edit­ing that you started to side with Drago. Then Creed’s win doesn’t feel like a win, it’s less heroic,” he says. Caple saved the hu­man­iz­ing for the fi­nal act.

“It’s the end­ing when we cre­ate this mul­ti­di­men­sional char­ac­ter,” he says. “You start to feel for Drago.”

BARRY WETCHER/MGM

It’s been a while. Dolph Lund­gren's Ivan Drago stares down Sylvester Stal­lon’s Rocky Bal­boa in “Creed II.”

MGM

Rocky (Sylvester Stal­lone) and Drago (Dolph Lund­gren) square off in “Rocky IV.”

BARRY WETCHER/MGM

Ivan Drago (Dolph Lund­gren) tries to rally his son Vik­tor (Florian Mun­teanu) in “Creed II.”

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