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'Creed 2' Is a Knockout

Come for the abs. Stay for the story.

I didn’t know Creed 2 existed until about a week before I saw it. I should say, I heard about it when they were making it and completely forgot about it. I saw the trailer the week before and realized that the movie was actually close to being released. I was coming home for Thanksgiving and decided to see it with my mom and little cousin, since we saw the first Creed together. I really liked the first movie. Actually, I might even say I loved it. Then again, I love all the Rocky movies, and if you stick Michael B. Jordan in anything, I’ll go and watch it. He’s a perfect mix of hot and talent.

But we’ll talk about Jordan’s abs eventually; let’s start with my overall feeling. I adored this movie. Just like the first one, the fight scenes are intense and had me gasping and cringing. The emotion was real, and I was invested in each character’s struggles. Everyone had a problem that was addressed and worked through. I was invested and entertained.

Creed 2 did a lot of things really well. I think the first thing to address is the way it handled the Rocky mythology. Rocky was a little less present in this movie. It was more about Adonis Creed and Bianca rather than Rocky’s struggles. In the first Creed, we hadn’t seen the famous boxer in years. As a result, the time spent on his old demons was appropriate. We learned what he’d been up to all these years and how that factors into his relationship to Adonis. With the iconic character established and dealt with, the sequel can focus wholeheartedly on Jordan’s character.

Rocky’s reduction to a side character actually works for the movie. With the return to Ivan Drago’s character, I was scared they would rely too much on the nostalgia of Rocky IV. As much as I adore the camp and corniness of that movie, it doesn’t mesh with the tone of the Creed films. Thankfully, they didn’t exactly hammer you over the head with Rocky IV references. Of course, those callbacks were there. It was unavoidable. However, none of it felt too campy or anything. They brought the outlandishness of it to the real world of Creed. Drago brings up his son, Viktor, to fight and regain their family’s honor after Rocky beat him. When Adonis becomes the heavyweight champ, they finally seize the opportunity to challenge him. Like in Rocky IV, Creed fights Drago. Adonis gets lucky; though he loses, he isn’t killed like his father. Viktor punches him while he’s down and the fight comes to disqualification. The feud can’t end like that, so they continue with the Rocky IV storyline. Adonis eventually gets back on his feet, goes to Russia, and wins. Though the story plays out similarly, it’s not an in your face homage.

When Adonis wins, Rocky stays out of the ring and tells him that it’s his time now. Adonis, though a little sad, understands, and joins the winner’s circle with his girlfriend, the other coaches, etc. What really makes it sink in is a beautiful shot of Rocky sitting in a folding chair. The camera views him from behind as the announcers and others pose for a picture in the ring above him. He’s not in the picture, as he’s blocked by the others in front, but the image makes sense. We can’t see Rocky, but his presence is there. Adonis’ story is really taking off and he’s the one the camera should be focused on. Rocky will always support him from the side. It was one of my favorite shots in the movie for saying so much without words.

Speaking of no words, the “villain” of this movie, Viktor Drago, was written so well. They built him up for the first half to be this monster of a man. He has insane workouts and an even more insane muscle mass. What’s more clever, he doesn’t have any lines until about fifty minutes into the film. That’s almost halfway through. His first line is in his first fight with Adonis. When told he has to “break” Adonis, he simply replies, “I know.” It’s nothing too showy for his first line, but in context, it shows how scary he is. Viktor Drago will punch you out, no questions asked.

What makes Viktor’s character better, he has a real emotional arc with his father. Ivan was just a cold, strong man in Rocky IV. Since then, he’s been shunned by the Russian elite who used to love him and left by his wife for disgracing the country. When Viktor starts to win and become the next big thing, these elites come back to sponsor him and support him ringside. The final push that rattles Viktor is when his mother returns to support them. She walked out of his life at such a young age, and he’s angry and resentful. He has enough and leaves as soon as his mother enters the room. Ivan is interesting. He meekly accepts the support, knowing it’s what will raise his family’s status again. During the final fight against Adonis, when Viktor starts to lose, his mother and the others leave again. Viktor sees this, and Ivan sees that he sees this. As a result, an even more upset Viktor starts to fall apart, and Adonis takes advantage. In a beautiful reversal that shows Ivan’s growth, he throws in the towel and stops the fight, telling his son he’s sorry and that it’s okay. A good part of this movie is dedicated to the idea of Rocky not throwing in the towel and stopping the fight years ago that killed Adonis’ father, Apollo. Now it’s Ivan throwing in the towel, not because his son is in physical danger of death, but because his emotional state is in danger. The final shot of the two of them shows father and son running side by side, ready to train for other fights together.

With so much emotion invested in the antagonists, the emotional conflict Adonis suffers is very real. Tessa Thompson kills it again as Bianca, but Michael B. Jordan is just incredible. His story revolves around not wanting to let down his father’s legacy and also how to be a good father himself when Bianca becomes unexpectedly pregnant. There’s still unresolved anger and self-esteem issues because of who he is, and it’s the reason he loses the first fight so terribly. After he gets beat so bad he can’t walk, he lies in a hospital bed and cries, turning Rocky away, expressing how weak he is, and other insecurities that no amount of comfort can fix. Just when it seems he can’t have any more stress, his daughter inherits her mother’s hearing disorder. Both Bianca and Adonis have to learn to raise a child who will have significant difficulties in her life. It’s a lot for him to deal with in a short amount of time. He spends a chunk of the movie upset with himself to the point where he distances himself from Bianca, his mother, Rocky, and eventually his child. He can’t even bring himself to head to a boxing ring.

The pacing of this part of the movie is a little slower. The colors are muted and everything is quieter. Jordan, though he’s super muscular, is able to carry himself like he’s small and vulnerable. You believe Adonis’ depression and want him to just get back on his feet. Only after breaking down in tears in front of his daughter does he start to open up to Bianca and eventually Rocky again. He trains with Rocky in the desert to be reborn and endures incredible physical stress to make both his mind and body stronger. It works; he wins and finds himself to be more balanced and ready to handle the pressures of being a good father and husband. Not to mention, this montage, in particular, gives us incredible views of Michael B. Jordan’s torso. At the end, when you see just how bulked up he’s gotten for the fight, I think I almost had a heart attack.

To get back to the drama, what I love about the interpersonal struggle he goes through is how he and Bianca don’t give up. Even when he’s disconnected, Adonis never up and leaves. Even when Adonis is difficult to deal with, Bianca works to find ways to support him. A great moment is when in the final fight, he gets knocked down and almost loses. He’s been hit in the head and has trouble righting himself, but it’s Bianca’s voice telling him to get up that motivates him. Hearing is a big part of this movie, with Bianca’s deafness as well as their baby’s. Adonis only being able to hear his fiancé in a moment of crisis seems to connect them. They listen to each other, and sometimes they’re the only ones who can truly hear each other. Thompson and Jordan are such a believable couple, and I love watching them on screen together.

Creed 2 is a very strong follow up to the first movie. The first one was so unexpected, that it might be the better of the two. Still, something about this movie resonated with me. Maybe it’s my personal experience with depression, but the scenes of Adonis at his lowest hit close to home. Personally, I prefer this second movie. It combines a compelling and familiar narrative with powerful multi-dimensional characters to make for a movie that will make you cry and smile. If you enjoyed the first movie, or even if you haven’t, I would certainly give Creed 2 a few hours of your time.

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