“Disability gets treated as a plot device, conceived solely to further Adonis’ story.”
Title: Creed II
Director: Steven Caple Jr. 👨🏽🇺🇸
Writers: Story by Cheo Hodari Coker 👨🏾🇺🇸 and Sascha Penn 👨🏼🇺🇸 and screenplay by Sylvester Stallone 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Juel Taylor 👨🏾🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
—MILD SPOILERS AHEAD—
In 2015, Ryan Coogler produced a cinematic masterpiece with the first Creed film. I remember the revelatory experience of watching a Black protagonist traverse the classic hero’s journey, but instead of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), or Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), or any number of white athletes who had graced the screen before him, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) brought a fresh perspective and jolted the franchise into modernity.
The formula remains the same: a sweeping tale of underdog-to-contender-to-champion that’s been repeated to death in sports films overall. But by incorporating Adonis’ Blackness in subtle ways, like watching him take care of Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) hair in a moment of deep intimacy, Coogler gave us new tools to talk about the same, core human emotions.
Director Steven Caple Jr. threads that same needle with grace. Adonis and Bianca are protagonists first and Black characters second, imbued with a naturalness that could only have come lived experience. This is no The Blind Side, is all I’m saying.
Unfortunately, the actual crafting of the narrative does fall short. Caple spends far too long on set-up, with a meandering first hour that I had trouble remembering even after I’d just left the theater. But the stellar, Rocky-worthy training montages and exciting fight scenes make up for uneven pacing.
Where Creed II truly shines is its cinematography. The film looks and feels more expensive than its $50 million budget, through crisp visuals, dramatic lighting, and engrossing action. It’s true the emotional components of Adonis’ daddy issues and Rocky’s insistence on “having heart” didn’t connect for me, but the sheer polish of Creed II warranted a good time and left me sans buyer’s remorse.
Creed II might technically pass the Bechdel Test, but in spirit, it fails utterly. The one piece of dialogue exchanged between two women takes place at the dinner table, with Adonis, his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and Bianca seated around it. Mary Anne asks Bianca what’s new in her life and Bianca replies that she got signed to a record label. And there we have it, the Bechdel Test pass! But immediately, the conversation turns to the possibility of Bianca being pregnant. Sigh.
While Creed II does deserve accolades for being a Black-directed and Black-led film, the way its treats its women as vehicles of emotional support feels retrograde. Writer Princess Weekes details the situation excellently in her piece for The Mary Sue, but in short, Bianca deserves more than she’s given. Writers tried to render a three-dimensional person, through a thin backstory and some goals we’re told about, but seldom shown. She simply comes off as a slightly updated version of Rocky’s Adrian, like an accessory to Adonis’ life. Bianca’s his rock, his “heart”—she’s the home Adonis gets to return to, after going out and being a Man’s Man who lifts boulders with his head while she stays back to be a single mom for awhile, her dreams of being a musician on hold even as her hearing continues to degenerate.
It's a frustrating gender dynamic that seldom budges from the big screen, and whether it's A Star is Born or Creed II, these blockbusters are telling viewers that the emotional needs of men override the well-being of the women around them. Adonis gets unflagging support from Bianca, even when he's completely lost in his own turmoil. Meanwhile, Bianca struggles through an entire pregnancy with a mentally absent husband and just Adonis' mother for support—because we never once see Bianca with any friends or family of her own. Seriously, why doesn't she have any friends or family?
Look, I always knew this was going to be a film that glorifies masculinity. But I’d hoped for a more modern take on what that even means in 2018. Instead, we’re treated to the outdated version of “manhood”—one that relies on women taking the brunt of emotional labor while men receive pardons and adulation. At one point, Mary Anne advises Bianca that she has to be there for Adonis. But who’s going to be there for Bianca and her baby?
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 38% of key cast and crew members were POC.
This film’s an easy one for racial diversity. As mentioned above, it’s deeply refreshing to watch characters of color centered in a way that incorporates their cultural backgrounds without ever making a big deal about it. This isn’t colorblindness, either. Between casual jokes Adonis makes about being Black; the sense of community palpable at Delphi Boxing Academy with its Black trainers and family friend Duke (Wood Harris), who’d trained Adonis’ father; to the unspoken tension of seeing a Black man fight for his life against white villains choosing to play dirty—the world of Creed II feels painstakingly real. That depth and history grounds the universe, turning it into something you can really sink your teeth into.
Deduction for Disability: -0.50
Bianca is a singer who is losing her hearing. The premise itself is fine, even welcome as a representation of disability. It doesn’t hurt that Thompson herself has a younger brother with hearing loss, and the way she speaks about the condition feels totally on point. She tells BET:
“The truth is there are tons of people who don’t hear anything, or do experience hearing loss, and they do live rich awesome lives. I think it’s important particularly in media to reflect that, it doesn’t have to be a pained experience.”
Unfortunately, the writers of Creed II have a different idea. Instead of heeding such wise words, they actively turn the hereditary aspect of Bianca’s condition into a “pained experience” for both her and Adonis.
When the new parents are about to find out whether or not their baby is deaf, the scene is treated like a nail-biter, complete with close-ups of the beeping machine that will either allow the parents a sigh of relief at having a “normal” child, or usher in the supposed tragedy of having a deaf child. Eventually, results show that the baby isn’t responding to noise—a sign that she’s probably deaf. As the audience, we’re informed by Adonis’ own realization as he starts to cry, instigating the same reaction from Bianca through the glass of the testing room as she wipes away stoic tears, even while clutching a baby who looks totally chill.
I wouldn’t begrudge new parents for their in-the-moment reactions, but it’s the way disability gets used as a plot device that feels mishandled. Their child’s hearing status feels shoehorned in, solely to further Adonis’ narrative as an extra weight is added to his loaded shoulders of emotional baggage. The news is apparently so bad that even after the test is done, Adonis still can’t even consider that his baby might be deaf. When Rocky asks Adonis what he’s going to do, he replies, "I have to believe it's going to be okay," completely missing the point that having a deaf baby, who is otherwise totally healthy, is already okay.
Rocky points this out to Adonis, saying that his newborn daughter is just fine and that Adonis needs to be fine too, for her. But it's too little and too late; as the audience, we can already sense the filmmakers’ innate horror at having a child with hearing problems.
If writers had merely continued with Bianca’s well-written journey of hearing loss, or perhaps presented a deaf newborn in a way that wasn’t portrayed as a tragic event, then Creed II could have easily picked up bonus points in this category rather than a deduction.
Mediaversity Grade: C 3.33/5
Creed II is fun to watch and Michael B. Jordan remains fine as hell, but the pacing wanders and the plot feels forgettable. Meanwhile, toxic masculinity propels this film forward with no consequences for the mistreatment of loved ones. Whether it’s Rocky’s son who probably wouldn’t have welcomed his father with open arms and a smile after years of estrangement, to the way Bianca and Mary Anne unwaveringly support Adonis’ selfish actions, the core message of Creed II is perhaps its most regressive: that as long as you triumph and prove to other men that you’re worth something, you’ll always be forgiven and celebrated by your loved ones…regardless of what you put them through.