Creed II: A Perfectly Satisfying & Layered Family Film

Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Creed II is the perfect family film about what you will fight for and for whom. Americans in particular really love a good fight film but this is about more than about patriarchy, though certainly, at the heart of any American fight narrative is a story about fathers and sons, about struggle, victory and what it means to win.

Boxing, even as spectacle, also feels like it offers us something we never get to see anymore — real spontaneity, the intersection of brutality and heart that we often feel but can’t really articulate. You watch someone essentially fight to survive, often quite literally, and no matter what your gender expression, you can’t help but wonder, Am I that kind of fighter? What am I fighting for?

Maybe that’s just me, though. One of the things that’s delightful about Creed II is that these questions are posed explicitly. After all, why not be as demonstrative with your interrogation of self as you will be with these hands?

Because I love all things Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, I was pre-disposed to like Creed II. But while I’m a fan of individual boxers and their stories, I have difficulty watching hard core violence as an empath. So I had a few tough moments in the theater, but thankfully not too many.

I knew what to be looking for and for me, this wasn’t about the knockout moments, but the prep. The question. The real question: Do I have enough heart for this? Which is another way of asking: Am I made for this?

Maybe other people are less intense (probably!) but I love thinking about these questions. I think all the reasons you go to the movies or maybe this kind of movie in particular during the holidays are there — the music matches the scenes; the fighters are mismatched in every way: physically, racially, geographically. But even if you haven’t seen the first film and aren’t going to, here’s what you need to know going in without any spoilers:

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of legendary Apollo Creed, who is an icon who died in the arms of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Adonis didn’t get to meet his father; Rocky is still a witty, wise, trainer, though a beleaguered, stoic, kind of haunted one because of the whole past trauma thing. Adonis was raised by his adoptive mom, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who offers up her incisive blend of pointed, graceful wisdom with precision in every scene. Adonis has decided he’s going to follow in the footsteps of Apollo despite the dangers that are obviously involved. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Philly girl and singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and tries to build a life in his own right, with his own story.

So Creed II picks up not really where we left off so much as with the story of a different father and son in the Ukraine. This is where I stop telling you more because you should see it for yourself.

Here’s why: Without making a big deal about it Creed II works out with Adonis and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) his gigantic opponent a lot of the following: how we may try and fail to address the trauma of abandonment; what belonging really means and looks like or feels like; living out the dreams, goals and revenge fantasies of our parents whether they’re living or dead; what haunts us; what belongs to us and what’s ours; making a name for yourself; what that means to you; what you think it means versus what it will mean when you’re dead and finally, fighting to prove something — to yourself or to the ubiquitous but always vague Them.

Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I mean, I wasn’t really ready — I say that with affection and awe.

What’s most rewarding about this, I think, if more than one thing can be most rewarding is that in Creed II, narratives are not just steeped in the present but they also pay homage with some ambivalence to the past, which is just so real.

If you were around when Rocky was the highest-grossing film of 1976 and put young Stallone the actor and screenwriter on the map, Creed II gifts you evidence of the fullness of time. We get to see what it looks like to age into the grace to make a different decision, to try and make up for mistakes, to heal trauma by revisiting the site of past wounds with intention. You can’t change the past, and you probably shouldn’t hope for that. But you can make a different story and sometimes, that’s better. It’s a life you can live with, at least — a life worth fighting for.

It’s also true that while the behind-the-scenes crew has shuffled a bit for Creed II you don’t feel it so much in the writing or dialogue so much as it’s evident in the pace and the way music almost becomes another narrator. This is not, by the way, the same as the Rocky theme song’s function — what I mean is that hip hop is used this time around as a reminder that we are here not so much for the surprising depth and complexity of what transpires in the movie but for a show.

Speaking of which, the intimacy between Bianca and Adonis, their sweetness and tenderness in the midst of these harsh, sharply contrasted questions of identity and ego show a level of emotional intelligence and full humanity of characters that unfortunately too often have been rendered far more flat. There’s not a lady influence in the writing or directing credits to be found, so that’s sad (*waves in full-time writer with a passion for movies and film!*) but at least the fellas who wrote this thing have enough wherewithal to move these two deeper into relationship instead of further apart as complications emerge.

Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

My main takeaway from Creed II, which, of course, is subjective as all reviews are, was that it’s always possible to write a new story. Sequels are tricky because their relationship with what preceded them can feel awkward, but here, echoes not to the 2015 Creed, but back to Rocky’s heyday, and his unfinished business show us the universality of the struggles we have with ourselves no matter what our age or other demographic demarcations.

All of us have some nostalgia for parts of the past that also have painful trauma that keep us stuck in a painful pattern of some sort that it feels like we can’t rewrite. Creed II helps us ask ourselves if we are really fighting to write a new story or if we like the old one better. In this way, it’s deeply satisfying because it evokes memory and tradition while also keeping an eye on the future.

Boxing, after all, is a fight against another person, but before that, it’s a battle with your heart and mind for the soul, for the self to be whole, to be free. Everything in life is about winning or losing and choosing your battles. You can maybe do it alone, but it’ll take a longer time and nobody remembers the folks who thought they didn’t need a team. Everybody needs two things if they are going to win: family (chosen or otherwise) and a commitment never to walk away from the fight of their lives.