Movie Review: Creed 2

Movie Review: Creed 2

Creed 2 is a good Rocky movie, but it doesn’t let you forget for a minute that it is a Rocky movie.

It’s finally that time of year! Oh, how I’ve been waiting for Creed 2 to come out. The first Creed was so thoroughly enjoyable, I was itching to do something I’ve never done: pay full price to watch a Rocky movie in the theater. I got my body ready (by practicing sitting for hours at a time). My mind was right (I listened to the Rocky soundtrack at least twice)! Then suddenly it was time to look in the mirror, say a prayer, and head into the ring theater.

Rocky
Me, leaving the theater. Don’t judge, everything else was in the wash.

2 hours and 10 minutes later, I emerged: victorious. I had some bumps and bruises, and at times my opponent pressured me into exposing weakness. But I dug deep, let the muscle memory kick in, and finally raised my empty popcorn bag in celebration.

Which is to say, Creed 2’s fighting trousers are cut from some very similar cloth, yet it entertains both the eyes and the heart. Let’s check out the tale of the tape.

Creed 2 (2018)

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has made the most of his primetime oppurtunity: since his split decision loss, he’s racked up enough wins to earn a shot at the title. But being the champ has it’s own burdens, and a ghost from the past is hungry for everything Creed has.

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Now Creed will face the biggest challenge of his life: Disney Princesses!

Rocky, Too

Rocky movies are usually groundbreaking (Rocky, Rocky Balboa, Creed) or formulaic (everything else). If you like character studies lightly seasoned with boxing, you probably prefer the former. The latter is usually served fluffy, with extra cheese. Creed 2 tries to walk a fine line, following the plot and pacing of Cheez-E Rocky while offering a little more heart during the drama sections.

Creed 2
This couple is just as good, if not better, than Rocky/Adrian

We get the by the numbers story: Creed succeeds, Creed fails, Creed redeems. If you’ve seen the Italian Stallion’s outings against Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago, you know what to expect in Creed 2. Speaking of Drago, this movie flew precariously close to being less a sequel to Creed and more a spiritual successor to Rocky 4. We’ll touch on that in a bit.

What saves this film is the characters, and the actors playing them. Adonis (and Rocky) have triumphs, setbacks, and drama at the exact spots you’d expect, but the last two movies (Rocky Balboa, Creed) did such a good job building these characters that you actually care. They also get to bounce off a very strong supporting cast. Tessa Thompson is back as Bianca, Creed’s love interest, and she’s as fantastic as she always is. Phylicia Rashad is back as well, and she so good at playing a mother that I think she should just have her named changed to “Mom”.

That being said, Creed 2 requires having watched at least a few of the previous movies to really enjoy it. Creed 2 does a lot of things better than previous entries, but it still sacrifices novelty at the altar of nostalgia.

Fight Night: Creed

The first Creed had a focus on improving the nuts and bolts of the boxing on display in the Rocky franchise. Creed 2 zeroes in on the business of boxing. Both Rocky Balboa and Creed nodded to the industry, but Creed 2 wallows in it. From ESPN coverage to HBO broadcasting, all of the ancillary elements of boxing are conspicuous and dialed up to 11. At key times Creed 2 feels like an extended cut-scene from EA’s Fight Night video-game series. Much like the rest of the movie, this is a blessing and a curse.

On the bright side, director Steven Caple Jr. knows hype. The ring entrances are electric. He also uses camera tricks that take you from first person to third person views, making you feel like you are the one in the ring. While the fights aren’t the best I’ve ever seen, they are definitely well done.

Creed 2
Get Hyped.

On the downside, boxing commentators and ESPN hot-takers are annoying, preening, puffed-up peacocks. They interject themselves into the movie, dragging your focus away from what’s in front of you. Just like they do in real life. If this was meant to be a jab at the industry, it misses its intended target and winds up smacking the audience.

Punching Above Your Emotional Weight

Creed 2
Being gigantic and swole is self evidently  in the good category.

Viktor Drago, the antagonist in Creed 2 is yet another mix of good and bad. The movie attempts to add some depth of character to Viktor and his father Ivan, but can’t quite pull it off. We get more time than usual in a Rocky film spent examining their motivations. It just doesn’t go far enough. The Rocky series has always been about the good guys and their character development, with strong villains being a glowering glaring weakness. I would have loved it if Creed 2 had taken a page out of Black Panther and committed the time it takes to really breathe life into the baddies. Viktor is the best rival the series has had since Apollo Creed, but that’s because everyone else has been mean mugging tomato cans.

I think creating compelling antagonists is imperative if Creed wants to remain a viable franchise. We almost get it here.

Creed 2
Almost made up for Kindergarten Cop 2, Dolph. Almost.

A Tune-Up Fight

At one point in the film, a corner-man suggests to Adonis that he could take a “tune-up” fight. That’s boxing lingo for destroying a lesser opponent to look good, pad your record, or get your confidence back. It can be useful, but taking too many can make a fighter look like a paper tiger. Creed 2 feels like a tune-up that the champ didn’t need. It looks flashy, incrementally improves on franchise mechanics, and takes very little risk. But after the strong showing that was Creed, going back to the well feels like a missed opportunity. There were several times I wished Creed 2 had turned expectations on it’s head, but it never did. It does Rocky well, but it never subverts anything.

I get that DC and Universal have highlighted how difficult it is to create or resurrect a franchise. Thus I can understand a desire to serve up some home-cooking in a sequel. I liked Creed 2, but that enjoyment was tinged with regret: if this movie doesn’t cement the franchise, I’d rather they failed by being too daring rather than too tepid. As Bianca tells Adonis: “time isn’t on my side”. I hope Sylvester Stallone heard that as well.

Creed 2
You might not get as many shots at the title as you think, champ. Make them count.

 

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