Creed has returned. With the release of Creed II, Michael B. Jordan has officially taken the mantle from Sylvester Stallone as the center of the Rocky universe (though Sly’s still around, mumbling a bunch). In Rocky fashion, Jordan’s training harder, the stakes are higher, and the opponents are scarier (think “fighting the son of the man who killed your father” scary). But could Creed II match the highs of its predecessor? The Ringer staff discussed that and more after seeing the movie.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Creed II?
Shea Serrano: It’s a good movie, and Michael B. Jordan is great in it. In just two movies, he’s turned Adonis Creed into an all-time great sports movie character.
Chris Almeida: Not nearly as good as the original, but the fights were fun as hell.
Alison Herman: I was rooting for Drago.
Miles Surrey: Neither legitimately good like the first Creed or ridiculous, let’s-punch-Communism-in-the-face good like Rocky IV.
Andrew Gruttadaro: Minus the Drago stuff, a mostly basic sequel about a grown man who longs for other grown men to call him “dangerous.”
Amanda Dobbins: I saw Creed II in a packed Philadelphia theater on Thanksgiving night, and … no one cheered.
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Gruttadaro: When Rocky was like “We’re gonna train different this time” and Wood Harris, channeling one of his costars from The Wire, went “Aw shiiiiiiiiit.”
The second best moment for me was seeing Apollo Creed’s gravestone, which had a picture of himself on it, the epitome of “weird flex but OK.”
Almeida: Adonis’s ring entrance in Moscow with Bianca was the most entertaining moment of the movie, especially in the theater. But I think the best moment of the movie was when Viktor broke Donnie’s ribs in New York. That scene established the new Drago as a lethal and worthy successor and made me legitimately worried for Donnie, despite his plot armor.
Surrey: The fights themselves are still thrilling to watch, and any intimate moments between Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson were boosted by the fact they’re both tremendously talented actors—even if the script wasn’t doing them many favors.
Dobbins: Just after the lights went down, when the 12-year-old I accompanied to this film whispered, “Wait, what happened in Creed 1?”
Serrano: I’m not sure if you’re asking me what the best acted moment of the movie was or what part of the movie made me feel the best. If it’s the former, then it’s the scene where Bianca and Adonis are having their daughter tested. That was mammoth. If it’s the latter, then it’s the part during the training montage when Rocky dropped that tire into the center of the ring and told Donnie to put his foot in it and not take it out.
My favorite part of CREED II was the “””poignant””” overhead of Adonis splayed out in the ring except like 20% of the shot was a giant Tecate logo— Alison Herman (@aherman2006) November 25, 2018
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Dobbins: The lack of energy.
Serrano: You could, no question about it, feel that Ryan Coogler did not direct it. It was missing that uppermost level of nuance that he has proved himself capable of.
Surrey: That Creed II brings back Russia and the Dragos in 2018 and doesn’t address the elephant in the room. I don’t need Adonis Creed to join the #Resistance or anything, but not acknowledging the current dynamic between America and Russia at all is just really bizarre. Especially since Rocky IV wore its patriotism on its boxing gloves.
Gruttadaro: Probably that Max Kellerman had, like, the fourth most lines in this movie.
Almeida: Honestly? Probably the desert training montage, which threw off the pacing of the movie and felt extremely shoehorned in as the This Is Our Version Of Rocky Training In A Siberian Barn part.
Herman: There were a lot of conspicuous absences here! Ryan Coogler, for one; any real engagement with the potentially fun and fruitful subtext of Russia’s resurgence as an international villain to mirror Drago’s, for another; a serious challenge to Adonis’s extremely stupid macho logic, for a third. Where’s Angel when you need her?!
4. Finish the sentence: “The return of Ivan Drago was …”
Gruttadaro: … shockingly, maybe accidentally, the emotional centerpiece of the movie? I was so sad about the Dragos that I barely cared about Adonis winning at the end? Dolph Lundgren should be in more things?
Serrano: … very well done. It could’ve very easily been a goofy thing. It wasn’t, though.
Almeida: … wonderful. Dolph Lundgren wanted a chance to be more than a monster, and he nailed it.
Surrey: … honestly, super sad? The Dragos have had it rough, man.
Herman: … proof Dolph Lundgren can still get it. I only speak the truth!
5. Grade the desert training montage.
Gruttadaro: I give it a C+. It just didn’t have enough emotional specificity—remind me why it had to take place in the desert?—and it didn’t have a compelling soundtrack. The two movies Creed II is directly referencing are Creed and Rocky IV, also known as two movies with elite training montages. What I’m saying is the bar was incredibly high.
Herman: I think that Mad Max: Muscle Beach situation was supposed to be this movie’s answer to the ATV set piece from the first Creed. It … was not.
Almeida: It was fine. C+. Rocky training montages can’t actually be that bad. I’ll watch it again a couple of dozen times when it’s on YouTube.
Serrano: It was a solid B, maybe angling toward a B+.
Surrey: C. The Mad Max Crossfit Gym is cool in theory, but seemed tacked on because the Rocky-verse already trained in the snow and wanted to spice things up. Besides, there was just way no way it could live up to the Creed ATV montage.
6. What is the one training exercise in Creed II that personally caused you pain?
Herman: Having to revisit the psychic legacy of your father’s death and the ways in which you may or may not be perpetuating a generational cycle of abandonment looked pretty rough!
Dobbins: To borrow from Nora Ephron, I feel bad for Michael B. Jordan’s neck.
Almeida: Probably the close-range, one-foot-in-the-tire sparring with the giant man. If I’m a boxer, I’d like to wait for the money fights to take heavy shots to the head, thank you.
Serrano: The medicine ball being smashed into his gut feels like a good answer, as does the aforementioned tire-in-the-ring part, but I’m going to go with something a little different: There’s that one part where he’s jogging behind the car on the road in the desert and he passes out. When he does, he falls face-first on the street. That part made me squirm a bunch. I imagine that fall hurt a bunch, but also I imagine the road was incredibly hot, which probably hurt more.
Surrey: The weights being attached to Adonis’s neck. I’m sure there’s a boxer reason for working out the neck muscles, but it looks very painful and dangerous! Plus, work the neck too hard and you’ll end up like this guy.
Gruttadaro: Rocky: You ready ta train harder than ya ever have in yer life?
[Takes one medicine ball to the gut.]
Me: OK I’m out.
7. To reiterate Adonis’s question: When was the last time Rocky made a smart decision?
Surrey: When he inadvertently gave Paulie a sexbot.
Dobbins: When he proposed! Commitment is good; finding a partner who will support you while you enter yourself in a series of increasingly ill-advised fights is good (at least emotionally); having a renewable source of theme music is good.
Gruttadaro: Whatever time it was when he decided to just leave that chair at the cemetery.
Herman: Opening an old-school Italian restaurant in Philly seems like a solid business bet.
Almeida: Taking the cupcake fights before accepting Clubber Lang’s challenge, probably. Rocky seemed to be living his best life at the beginning of Rocky III. He beat up Hulk Hogan! He was in American Express ads! Know when to fold ’em, champ.
Serrano: The last time he made a smart decision was when he decided to train Donnie. It saved his life (there’s no way Rocky decides to try to fight cancer without Donnie pushing him toward that), and also it changed Donnie’s life.
8. Is Adonis Creed … good at boxing?
Serrano: Are you asking me if the heavyweight champion of the world is good at boxing? Yes. The answer is yes. Yes, the heavyweight champion of the world is good at boxing.
Surrey: That depends—compared to his father? I’m not so sure. But he’s way better than Rocky, whose entire career was contingent on his thick skull being able to withstand a ridiculous amount of hits until his opponent tired out. (Wait … who’s been teaching Adonis how to defend himself this whole time?)
Almeida: I mean … he won a fight against a guy who had 40 pounds on him, so I guess so.
Dobbins: I’m no expert here, but it does seem like Creed figured out how to manipulate the rules of boxing to his advantage? Which makes him a good boxer. Do the rules of boxing adequately measure the fighting abilities of its competitors? Catch me soon on a sports podcast near you!
Gruttadaro: So … he wins the heavyweight championship, and also retains it by defeating Viktor Drago—but honestly, Donnie’s strategy of taking six to 10 massive head blows per round seems wildly unsustainable.
9. What are your thoughts on Bianca’s music career?
Almeida: The music isn’t really my style, but I’m rooting for her anyway.
Serrano: I’m proud of Bianca. I was happy to hear that she’d gotten signed to a major label.
Herman: She’s getting a Fader cover any day now.
Gruttadaro: I’m generally confused about where she is in her ascension to stardom: She sold out the Fillmore in Philly but was just getting a record deal and just booking festivals? (Also, did she have to cancel those tour dates after she got pregnant? Why wasn’t there a scene where she and Donnie discussed whose career is more important?)
Also, I’m shocked the Russians let her perform before the final fight.
Dobbins: It’s not the walk-on song I would have chosen, but otherwise I support Bianca. Let her shine in places that are not a Russian sports arena.
Surrey: I’d have liked to have seen more tidbits from her career, actually. Make the third Creed movie a Star Is Born–esque story of Bianca’s musical ascendance while Adonis stays at home with the baby. The “Adonis and Rocky’s adventures in babysitting” subplot will be the slapstick comedy event of the year, while Bianca does a collab with Ally.
10. Will there be a Creed III? Should there be?
Gruttadaro: I think there will be, and if it’s about how Donnie needs to retire because he’s taken too many punches to the head, then there should be.
Herman: The entire point of this movie is to transition a fresh, exciting rebirth of a franchise into a predictable, competent franchise of its own. So: yes and yes.
Almeida: When MBJ talked to the boss, Bill Simmons, last week, he said that he wanted to make four or five films, so I think there’s a pretty good chance we make it to at least three. All Rocky movies are always welcome, as long as there is an in-ring fight. I’d really rather not see Donnie knocking out the next Tommy Gunn in the street.
Surrey: Even if Creed III wouldn’t be able to recapture the magic of the first Creed, it’d be nice to round out Adonis’s story with a trilogy—like anyone would have an issue with more Sweaty Michael B. Jordan Training Montages, anyway. Plus, it could be a great climactic send-off for Rocky, who can mumble off into the sunset after reuniting with his son, and perhaps finally give Sylvester Stallone the Oscar win he genuinely deserves for leading this franchise.
Serrano: I hope they make Creed movies for the next 40 years, same as they’ve done with Rocky movies.