Ryan Coogler’s 2015 Creed successfully revitalized the Rocky franchise in almost every way. It satisfied the modern industry requirements for a soft reboot, thereby being the most accessible to mainstream audiences and maximizing financial security. It pivoted Sylvester Stallone’s role from aging fighter to aging mentor, netting him a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination as a result. It harnessed the inherent swagger and star power of Michael B. Jordan. It zapped life into the visual display of two men boxing each other to a bloody pulp. It was an undeniable crowd-pleaser.
Creed II loses Coogler, and it loses a portion of its energy as a result. Steven Caple Jr. was given a tough task filling those shoes, especially when it comes to filming the boxing sequences. There are three major boxing matches in the film. The second one shows off Caple’s skills the most. Kramer Morgenthau’s camera switches to POV when Adonis Creed (Jordan) is cornered, and it whips down to the mat when a fighter falls. It is a slick execution, embedding us within Adonis’ experience inside the ring.
The third fight, the big climax, shows some lack of patience. Creed II is a two-hour, fifteen-minute long film that feels its runtime, but, all the same, the final fight is what everyone signs up for when they buy a ticket to a film in the Rocky franchise. When rounds become condensed into a montage, the momentum gets flattened with every edit.
There may be satisfaction to the result and the resolution of the film, but the hurried execution of this climactic fight could have been remedied with more patience and, as proved earlier, a confidence in the director’s ability to immerse the viewer in Adonis’ condition throughout the fight.
What remains consistent over the two Creed films are the performances. Jordan maintains the draw of a hungry champion-level boxer. Stallone’s late-career Rocky Balboa continues to be the superior version of the character. He has lived and loved the iconic fighter for so long, and it shows in how he writes and performs the character here.
The increased role for Tessa Thompson is also a major boon to the film. With much more of a central role in the narrative, we are able to see an emotional core that is missing in the first Creed. Not only does this allow for Thompson to perform at the height of her abilities, but it also expands on the titular character in a positive way. Boxing is all machismo, and Creed is a character whose machismo pride carries him through his career. With Thompson’s Bianca there to support and challenge him, Creed is forced to be more than just a testosterone-fueled fighter.
Creed II is an honorable follow up to the first film, which was an honorable follow up to the Rocky legacy. Steven Caple Jr. is no replacement for Coogler; he is a promising and competent director in his own right. More than I am excited to see a Creed III, I am excited to see how Caple Jr. grows as a filmmaker in the coming years.
Creed II: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)