FILM REVIEW: CREED II doubles down on nostalgia & leaves you caring more for the past than the present
“It’s your time now”
As Adonis Creed beckons towards Rocky Balboa to join him in the ring following the former’s victory over Viktor Drago, Rocky offers him a simple fist bump & those words. The camera pauses on a wide shot of their arms outstretched & linked at the fist before cutting to a close-up of Adonis. He looks a bit taken aback but turns to the ring, the crowd celebrating him, & embraces his moment. The camera follows him as he’s handed his belt and walks out of the ring hand-in-hand with Bianca up the tunnel. Rocky Balboa doesn’t appear in this scene again. The future unequivocally belongs to Adonis Creed.
CREED 2 took a different approach than its predecessor. After nailing that impactful line (fun fact: a line Sylvester Stallone improvised, according to director Steven Caple Jr.), Rocky walks over to a ringside chair and takes a seat. The camera follows him, positioned steadily behind him, the ring & everything happening in it in front of him but out of focus. We see Creed’s jubilance at his triumph over his demons through Rocky’s point of view. We don’t get to experience his joy in the ringl instead we’re left with the aged legend who has finally passed the torch. It’s a somber moment, but a beautiful shot that highlights the biggest problem I had walking away from CREED 2...
I still care more about Rocky Balboa than Adonis Creed.
Nostalgia is an extremely powerful tool. Humanity loves looking back to feeling the way we felt before, or at the very least, the way we believe we felt. It was used to perfection in 2015’s CREED. Watching the older Rocky train & take care of the illegitimate child of his close friend and former arch-enemy while he walked a similar path was appropriately affecting. There were familiar beats but more than enough originality for it to feel like it’s own piece.
The sequel doubled down on that nostalgia, tying Rocky’s own past directly to Adonis’ present. The end result is a movie that belongs just as much to the former as it does the latter, in spite of the latter being the titular character. In the end, Rocky reconnects with his estranged son & meets his grandson while Adonis visits the grave of his deceased father, Apollo, & introduces him to his grandchild. Rocky’s soft spoken meeting with the only family he has left produced a small lump in my throat. Adonis’ cathartic visit to the father he never knew left me shrugging.
So we circle back to that post-match moment. That ringside fist bump. The man sitting in a chair, outside looking in. The camera resting behind him. We’re invited fully into the perspective of Rocky Balboa, engulfed completely by his somber uncertainty. We’re left as spectators to Adonis Creed’s happiness, his victory over the ties that bound him to his past. The camera is the audiences’ portal into their world. Its positioning is ours as well. It controls what we see, & what we see controls what we feel. To the right, it would’ve shown us unbridled joy. To the left was quiet doubt. The powers that be took the camera left and that seemingly small choice made all the difference.
“It’s your time now”
After watching the moment that followed, what should have been a passing-of-the-torch line, I can’t help but ask; is it?
UPDATE: Well... it may be. Earlier this week Sylvester Stallone announced on Instagram that he’s officially retiring the Rocky Balboa character. While it's a great move for the franchise, it doesn't sit well with me that the character will either be relegated to an off-screen death or passing mentions about his whereabouts in the next film. It’ll most likely be the former because it’s the only reason a prominent father figure in Adonis’ life & career is suddenly no longer around, but the latter would leave audiences questioning why he doesn’t reach out to his mentor.
Time will tell how this all plays out, but if CREED 2 is the end of Rocky & Adonis' relationship, then it ends with Rocky Balboa acting as a plot device in two films before being unceremoniously disregarded as if he were never that important to begin with.
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