11:59am PT by Graeme McMillan
'Creed II': What the Critics Are Saying
Michael B. Jordan’s second outing as Adonis Johnson is about to arrive in theaters three years after Ryan Coogler’s critically acclaimed Creed. But without the original’s director — Steven Caple Jr. steps in to replace Coogler, who stayed on as an executive producer while preoccupied with goings-on in Wakanda — does the new movie manage to land the punch that fans are hoping for?
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy was not in the corner of the sequel, writing, “As Rocky II was to Rocky, so is Creed II to its powerhouse progenitor — that is, a pale shadow of its daddy. Slack and unexciting compared to Ryan Coogler's blisteringly good 2015 reconception of a 1970s icon for modern audiences, this follow-up is an undeniable disappointment in nearly every way, from its dreary homefront interludes to a climactic boxing match that feels far-fetched in the extreme.”
Others were similarly unimpressed. Sam Adams at Slate wrote that “the movie feels like a throwback to a time when the primary purpose of sequels was to squeeze out a little more juice, not build a framework sturdy enough to support any number of future projects,” and adding that “it’s depressing that after Creed’s success, Creed II feels like it’s just a step above a straight-to-video knockoff, designed to get a little more from the first movie’s audience but not to increase it.”
…Ouch. Not everyone was so unkind, however. Polygon’s Karen Han noted that ”It’s funny … that this sequel should feel like it’s struggling to fill its predecessor’s shoes, given the way its characters struggle with much the same thing. Unlike Adonis and Viktor, however, Creed II never manages to step out of that shadow,” while Mashable’s Angie Han wrote that the movie “mostly works. It's not quite as smart as Creed, or quite as beautiful, and it doesn't have as much depth or nuance or texture. But it's got enough to deliver something satisfying and sweet.”
And, as the AV Club’s Jesse Hassenger argued, perhaps that’s enough of a victory in and of itself. “Just as Rocky was too low-key and charming to spawn a fully worthy successor for several decades, Creed so elevates its franchise roots that even a pretty good sequel can’t land with the same impact. Then again, a 2018 movie called Creed II expanding on Rocky IV to become one of the better Rocky movies may be another minor miracle on its own.”
Not that everyone was looking for a consolation prize, however. Benjamin Lee of The Guardian wrote, “While it’s not quite the showstopper that its predecessor was, Creed II is still another knockout piece of entertainment. … Even though the majority of audience members will be able to predict the film’s trajectory despite an early attempt at a surprise, this has no adverse effect on one’s enjoyment. There’s almost something comforting about the formula especially when it’s laid out with such vibrancy and, as in Creed, such heartfelt humanity.”
Similarly, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn called the movie a “slick and involving sequel” that “follows all the familiar motions revived with Creed. But in the context of this resilient franchise, the movie hits each beat with the calculated precision of its tireless fighter.”
So, is Creed II just a retread of familiar spaces, and, if so, is that even a problem? Perhaps Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang has it right. “[I]f cinematic history is doomed to repeat itself, it’s comforting to remember that sameness is one of the reasons we go to a boxing picture in the first place, where even the hoariest B-movie clichés, much like a well-practiced swing or punch, can still land with devastating force and feeling,” he wrote, calling the pic “the rare sequel that doesn’t wind up feeling like the same old mistake.”
Maybe it’s no knockout, but it’s better than nothing. Creed II will be released Nov. 21.