It’s going to be impossible for me to put aside my bias to write this review. My dog’s name is Apollo Creed. My big brother and I would watch Rocky marathons all day until our parents forced us to go do our homework or something more productive than yelling “Adrian!” at each other for hours and pretending to run up the “Rocky Steps”. Now, my partner and I re-watch Creed monthly. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time. The franchise stars the love of my life, Michael Bae Jordan. I’m watching Creed II for the second time this week tonight. I just wanted to make it clear that while I’m going to do my best to put on my Serious Movie Critic Face, I’m also going to fangirl HARD all over this movie.
Creed II follows the formula of the Rocky classics while also bringing the familiar feel of so many blockbuster sequels. It’s bigger. It’s louder. Some of the quiet confidence of Creed has been replaced by screaming bravado - the way Adonis enters the ring, for example - and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, except for when it distracts from other details, like the dialogue or story. There was more depth to Adonis’s arc in Creed but that’s expected of any origin story. The OG Rocky is still revered as the best of the franchise all these years later (my fave is Rocky III). I don’t think any other movie in this franchise will ever live up to Creed and I think that’s OK. There are some fundamental things you want from a Rocky movie: an underdog plot, epic matches, and fist-pump worthy training montages. Creed II delivers on all fronts. Plus, Creed II is more of a follow-up to Lainey’s favourite, Rocky IV, than anything else and in that sense, it’s a knockout. Not sorry for that boxing pun.
The Dragos are GREAT villains. Ivan Drago famously killed Adonis’s father Apollo Creed in the ring 30 years ago. Rocky avenged his death in Russia in, as Sarah likes to call it, Rocky IV: America Face-Punches Communism. Ivan and his son were ostracized after his devastating loss and abandoned by Ivan’s wife and his son Viktor’s mother Ludmilla Drago, also a great villain, if not a bit wasted here. The Dragos are given a lot more depth in Creed II than I think anyone was expecting. As much as Rocky fans have been trained to HATE the Dragos, the loudest sobs you’ll hear in your theatre will probably come during a father/son moment between Ivan and Viktor. Lainey is probably making fun of me but I can’t be the only one who was moved by this scene. And yes, Drago is as TERRIFYING an opponent for Donnie as he was in the trailers. Spoiler alert: things get worse before they get better.
The father/son relationship has always been at the heart of the Creed franchise. In Apollo’s absence, Rocky’s relationship with Adonis takes its place. Sylvester Stallone as “Unc” Rocky is just as great as you remember him from Creed. Rocky and Donnie’s mutual love and respect for each other hits me in the gut every time. In this film, their relationship gets rocky (see what I did there?) and even though we KNOW the formula, we know the Drago fight is going to happen, Rocky’s concern is never trivial. Adonis’s stubbornness is never not infuriating. His exasperating ego is where some of the criticism of Creed II has been laid. Adonis is driven by a need to protect his reputation. He’s driven by a need to live up to his father’s legacy.
Candice Frederick for Cosmo calls out the film for Adonsis’s “daddy issues” and some missed opportunities when it comes to its female characters.
“... we’re expected to root for—and unconditionally support—his masculinity, no matter how it impacts the women in his life. But this doesn’t leave much space to have an honest conversation about the fact that Adonis, a soon-to-be father, chooses to risk his life in a fight he’s solely doing to maintain his manly appeal in the public forum—despite having a family to take care of.”
She’s not wrong. The choices Adonis makes, without the input of Bianca (played by my best friend Tessa Thompson) or his mom Mary Anne (played by my mom Phylicia Rashad) are frustrating. The reason I think I was able to overlook them and still be thoroughly entertained by this film is that Phylicia and Tessa play these roles with such depth and silent swagger. They are Adonis’s strength and when he’s slipping, they call him on his sh-t. Sure, they are there to service his storyline and I’m disappointed some of Bianca’s music storyline ended on the cutting room floor (like a scene with Jimmy Kimmel), but I loved what both of these women brought to the film.
Ryan Coogler’s signature way of making massive movies feel intimate and the Midas touch he put on Creed isn’t entirely missing. It just feels different. Steven Caple Jr. proves himself as a formidable director with SO MUCH TALENT. The boxing scenes are stomach-churning, brutal and brilliantly directed.
As for my Michael Bae Jordan, I’ve been writing a lot about what Creed II means for him and his plans for Hollywood domination. This is his franchise. He’s sharing Black Panther with Chadwick, Lupita, Danai and Letitia. Creed is all MBJ and if there was any question as to whether he’s a star (who’s questioning this?), he silenced any doubt. I love him so much. I love this movie so much. Forget everything I just said and GO SEE IT if you haven’t. I promise you’ll be cheering in the theatre.