For over 40 years, the Rocky franchise has been one of the most dramatic, poignant and bittersweet. For every moment of triumph there's one of loss, defeat and life being a mean son of a bitch.
While the quality of the films may have varied at times, they always delivered memorable characters and arcs and with Ryan Coogler's Creed we saw Rocky's story come full circle as he trained the son of Apollo Creed for his shot at the big time, garnering Stallone a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination along the way.
The sequel to Creed is eagerly anticipated, yet with Coogler heading to Wakanda to direct Black Panther, it's been down to Sly to keep the fan interest high. This is his forte, having kept Rocky going as a "thing" to get new movies made and by kicking off his own action franchise with The Expendables.
One thing The Expendables showed is he's not averse to remembering those who help him and in particular his co-stars like Dolph Lundgren.
Lundgren was an unknown actor when cast in Rocky IV as the towering 'Siberian Bull' Ivan Drago, but created an iconic character with his flat top, icy but human performance and screen chemistry with both Stallone and Carl Weathers. While Lundgren never quite made the A-list, his performance made him and gave the franchise it's most emotional moments.
The death of Apollo Creed shocked fans and served as a watershed moment in blockbuster movies. Rarely was such a popular character killed off, much less in a brutal and savage way at the start of the film. That Drago was being portrayed as a Russian invader only helped movie-goers to hate him and despite Sly's montage heavy direction it made Drago the best "villain" of the saga. Clubber Lang was just cocky, this guy was a murderous bastard... or was he?
Fast forward to the end of Creed and we see everyone in much different places to the end of Rocky IV.. Rocky is now an aging father figure, Apollo's wife a reluctant, but supportive mother to her late husband's lovechild and Adonis, only just being born when Rocky defeated Drago has embraced his past, but there is something he needs to do to get closure.
Stallone has now all but confirmed that Ivan Drago WILL appear in Creed 2 and naturally everyone is assuming we will see Ivan in the ring to face Adonis, or a "son vs son" situation.
The latter is very likely, but not in the way you think. There is a MUCH better way to use the character of Ivan Drago than to make him the villain again and those seeds are sown in Rocky IV and how the real Russia has evolved since the fateful fight which he lost in Moscow.
By openly defying his superiors in public, Drago would have had 2 choices, stay and be punished or defect. Even with Gorbachev and "glasnost" being teased as part of the film, there would still be powerful men out to get Ivan Drago. It is likely he had to leave Russia, without his wife Ludmilla who was very much a part of the system.
Forced to seek asylum in America, Drago would have been in a uniquely horrific situation. Hated by his own countrymen for the loss and the propaganda told about him as a result, yet equally hated in his new home for killing their hero. It is easy to imagine that Drago became bitter, abused alcohol and in 2017 would be very much a tragic figure.
His ex-wife, thanks to Russia's economy boom did very well for her and her unborn son (mirroring Adonis being born after the Apollo fight) after Ivan's departure and we see her return in Creed 2 in the "villain" role, with her promoting her and Ivan's son as "The Future" of boxing, maybe thanks to her Russian oligarch husband's money and connections with Putin.
This of course sets up a collision course between the two offspring in the squared circle, perhaps with pressure from Ludmilla for Ivan to "be there for his son" and, if not train him to be there for the publicity to salvage the name Drago. At the same time Rocky is trying to convince Drago he is worth something and Adonis not to hate the man who killed his father as he wasn't "to blame".
This would all be powerful stuff if it's done right, it would touch the politics hot button and dramatically, verbal showdowns between Rocky and Ivan and Adonis and Ivan would be far better use of Dolph Lundgren's underrated acting ability than simply putting him in the ring or in the opposing corner to glower. His Expendables character had elements of what I imagine Drago would have become, with his addiction issues, so we know he can portray a damaged character.
Bringing Brigitte Nielsen back could also be a masterstroke, despite her and Sly divorcing, there would be little reason not to see this happen. As the bitchy, calculating Ludmilla, she'd be a fantastic foil, especially in those press conferences and most importantly, it adds weight to Ivan's appearance. If she's not there either against him or by his side then it's really not gonna work. We can handle Adrian and Paulie being gone, but that means Ludmilla really needs to be there in some form.
As to who plays the son? Take your pick of any young, blond, muscular fighter or actor in his late twenties to early thirties... as with Dolph, the right person is out there and maybe not apparent on first glance.
It'd be clear that Drago Jr. would have to go down this time... but what might be the shock twist is that his father is actually in Creed's corner... perhaps the enduring thread of the Rocky saga has been about redemption and second chances. What if Rocky succumbed to his cancer before the fight? leading Drago to train Adonis to fight his own son? or if he turns down the chance to "get home" and "his name back" to do the right thing?
Either way - I think you'd agree there is much more to be gained from NOT making Dolph the bad guy this time around, however nasty he was in Rocky IV.