I have never really enjoyed boxing as a sport. I don’t get it. It’s just not for me. But I have enjoyed a fair share of movies about boxing and boxers, including ‘Creed.’ The trick is to use boxing as a metaphor, the sport and the competition as a narrative fulcrum for a character to come face to face with their demons. The sport in any sports movie is a metaphor for everything in our lives that we love and have to struggle and fight for, something that we earn.
Even if I never saw any of the ‘Rocky’ movies, I came in watching ‘Creed’ and the basis of the early reviews and was blown away by an emotionally charged story with engaging characters. I thought Sylvester Stallone could have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but that was a really tough year with many deserving other actors, most especially winner Mark Rylance.
On the strength of that first movie alone, I was going to watch ‘Creed II’ because I was invested in the characters. Coming in without having seen any of the ‘Rocky’ movies, I thought I wouldn’t be affected at all by the emotional weight of the film’s premise as it plays off as some sort of sequel for ‘Rocky IV’ as Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed is challenged to the ring by the son of the man who killed his father in ‘Rocky IV.”
This story works in two levels, the sort of revenge story that Adonis Creed can somehow avenge his father’s death by beating Viktor Drago while Rocky and Ivan Drago face off as coaches this time. I thought I’d feel distant from this story not having seen the previous film. However, the film uses this plotline to talk more about what it means being a champion, about the head games that occur when one makes it to the top, and essentially, it’s also about parenthood, as Adonis Creed discovers he is about to be a father and Rocky has to find it with himself to reconnect with his son.
Interestingly enough, a hero is also defined by his villain, and the film manages to carve a space for Ivan and Viktor Drago to have a complex relationship as well. We all know that Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson (who plays Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca) can carry the drama effortlessly, but Dolph Lundgren and Florian Munteanu manage to draw so much story from just facial expressions as they deal with each other during training montages and well-directed glances during the fights.
These are not hollow characters. This is not just some simple story of fighting just to win a title. The film manages to strip down Adonis Creed and even Viktor Drago down to their humanity, and boxing becomes an outlet for these characters to deal with emotional hurts and pain that somehow manifested itself after ‘Rocky IV.’
It’s quite an amazing feat by director Steven Caple Jr.. He goes through all the necessary narrative beats that you would expect from a sports movie but he still manages to utilize his actor’s strengths to completely make these characters distinct and believable. Jordan is a powerful human specimen and frightening in his boxing scenes, but he allows himself to be so vulnerable in the scenes when Adonis has to struggle with everything that is coming at him. You can see it in his eyes in well-timed close-ups that remind you that this is no composite or archetype.
The use of the musical score is excellent in this film, directing us towards the right emotional space so that the film never slows down and flows seamlessly from drama to suspense, and then what becomes thrilling boxing scenes. The boxing parts become more than just about strategy and technique. Each hit is charged with emotional strength, the story is so clear with every jab and every hook and uppercut.
By the end of ‘Creed II,’ I was in tears, I was clutching my jacket in utter suspense completely unsure how it would make its finale. And for a sports movie to keep me at the edge of my seat and not being sure how it would end, this is a great thing.