A Powerful Punch: A 'Creed 2' film review
by Will Lindus
Creed 2 packs a powerful punch, stepping back into the ring for a second bout in this heavyweight tale of legacy and redemption. The film follows boxing prodigy Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) who has recovered from his split-decision loss at the end of the first film and has begun to carve a path through the boxing world. After winning the light heavyweight championship, he receives a challenge from Viktor Drago, and gains a tunnel-visioned determination to seek revenge for his father’s death at the hands of Viktor’s father Ivan Drago many years ago.
The monolithic concept of legacy looms over every character in Creed 2. Adonis is always in his father’s shadow, doomed to relive his father’s untimely fate if he is unable to find his own path. We see this thematically, of course, in the many references to the previous Rocky films and in Adonis’s reckless collision course with Viktor Drago, but we also see it literally represented several times in the film. When Adonis trains, he does so at a gym featuring a giant image of his father which towers over Adonis, an icon of legend and legacy, and the weight of this legacy propels Adonis forward without allowing him the clarity to understand why he fights.
These tendrils creep into the lives of everyone Adonis encounters. His wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is pushing her music career forward despite a hearing disability, and is becoming quite the success story. But when the two conceive a child, fears of potentially passing along the hereditary hearing disorder to their unborn child haunt Adonis and Bianca. Adonis’s coach, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), has poured his energy into building a relationship with Adonis. He has become so focused on repairing the legacy of his friendship with Apollo Creed that he has neglected his own son and grandson, straining the relationship. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) were left by Ivan’s wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) following Ivan’s defeat at the hands of Rocky. Ivan and Viktor share a determination to not only defeat Adonis but to humiliate him in the ring, hoping against hope that restoring honor to the Drago name will restore the love and respect Ludmilla shows the pair.
Each of these characters is doomed if they collapse beneath the weight placed upon them by their ties to legacy, and can only succeed in their stories if they learn to find their own paths.
This is what is so fascinating about Creed 2, especially in the context of the modern film landscape of remakes and sequels. Films like the 2018 sequel to Halloween and Star Wars: The Force Awakens find strength in paying thematic homage to the earlier films in their lines. They borrow themes, plot beats, and even shot composition with these previous films as a way of connecting the characters to their legacy, and to connect the audience to both. Other films, like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, understand that legacy can inspire but it can also stunt personal growth. Creed 2 falls somewhere between the two extremes. Every shot, every plot beat, every character exists in the shadow of the franchise’s legacy, but each character is given an out, a way of untethering themselves.
Creed 2 struggles a bit with this theme at times, however, muddling the impact. Adonis and his bullheaded hyper-masculine drive is meant to serve both a cautionary function as well as a redemptive one, with the only difference being in the motivations for the actions taken, not in the actions taken themselves. Adonis is drawn to fights he cannot easily win, and the film isn’t always clear on whether this is meant to be admirable or damnable.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Creed and Creed 2 is in the overall quality of its execution. The first film featured aspirational direction by Ryan Coogler, who deeply understood the character of Adonis Creed and his place in the world. It also featured some of the best fight choreography of 2015, shot with minimal cuts by cinematographer Maryse Alberti. With Coogler’s leadership, Alberti’s precise eye, and the chemistry of Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone, Creed was an exceptional piece of filmmaking.
By comparison, Steven Caple Jr. takes the directorial reigns for Creed 2, and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau helps shape the vision. Both are incredibly competent and capable at their craft, but their talents lack some of the magic found in Creed.
Bottom Line: Creed 2 is an emotionally powerful piece of dramatic fiction, blending complex themes with heavy-hitting fight sequences. It both adheres to and is wary of the legacy of the franchise, and some of this thematic confusion helps to reduce its overall impact. It is a lesser film than Creed, but still enjoyable in its own right.
3.5 out of 5 Bear Paws