Creed II is not a movie about boxing. It’s about perseverance and balance. It’s about manifesting dreams. It’s about finding the resolve to continue chasing the thing that your heart must have even as you take on new roles and responsibilities. In the film, Adonis Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan, navigates his roles to others – son, father, champ – and reconciles unhelpful understandings of himself as a fatherless child and an imposter. I entered the movie excited to watch a shirtless, fine-ass Michael B. Jordan’s sweat it out in the ring. But I left gripped by the powerful narrative and portrayal of a man pushing through his pain, insecurities, and discomfort, getting out of his own way so that he could conquer his dreams. Creed II is a movie with too many inspiring dynamics to list. But this review seeks to highlight a few of my personal takeaways.
- You gotta be your own hypeman. Adonis (aka Donnie) had a great community surrounding him – his mom, his boo, Rocky, and others. All of them contributed to his well being in different ways. However, Donnie can not live on this alone. In one of the fight scenes, Donnie is knocked down to the canvas and is severely hurt, but wants to continue the fight. Homie hypes himself up by punching on the canvas. This keeps his spirit strong and he comes back to his feet for another round. It’s awesome if you have people believing in you, but it means nothing if you can’t believe in yourself or push yourself when needed.
- Don’t buy into other people’s narratives for your life. It may push you towards a shared goal, but it won’t get you through it. When Donnie fights Drago for the first time, he hides under the guise of avenging his father and defending his title. This narrative was constructed by fighting promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby) because as we all know, a good story sells. One boxer kills another in the ring. Now their sons match up to see if history will hold or if it will be rewritten. Donnie claims this framing was also his motivation for fighting Drago. Even after being pushed by Rocky to communicate his reasoning, Donnie claims that vengeance (and ego) is what he is seeking to enact. This is not Donnie’s truth. He loses. Once the champ heals – physically and emotionally – he finds the strength and the language to express his motivations and they vary from the story constructed by outsiders. While the outside narrative and Donnie’s true desires lead to the same thing – a boxing match with Drago – Donnie is only successful after he acknowledges and walks in walks in his own truth. In other words, it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Your purpose matters just as much as your action.
- Sometimes the manifestation of your dreams are places too painful for your loved ones. Oftentimes we hear about how you have to leave some folks behind because they don’t understand, can’t imagine, or simply do not believe in the vision you have for your life. But rarely do we discuss a person’s journey to fulfillment as site of pain for those they love. Rocky does not want Donnie to fight Drago. He has sound reasons, one of the major ones being that he recognizes that Donnie’s head is not in the ring; Donnie is not being honest with himself about why he wants to fight. But Rocky opts out of training him because he simply cannot bring himself to revisit what was a very traumatic, life-changing event for him. He is unable to overcome the guilt of not throwing in the towel for Apollo who died in the ring. He believes in Donnie, but cannot shake the fear that history might repeat itself. While Donnie is understandably upset with Rocky, he takes Rocky’s avoidance of his own pain and guilt, as rejection; Donnie feels unloved and unsupported by Rocky. By understanding Rocky’s decision as a wrestling with his own inner demons, Donnie is eventually able to look past his hurt and his unmet expectations to see that Rocky does love in fact love him.
- You should never have to vacate yourself for any relationship, not even husband or father. One of the beautiful things about Donnie and Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) relationship is that they respect each other’s passions. It is extremely hard for Bianca to watch Donnie get pummeled in the ring, to watch him lying in the hospital bed with in pain as he heals from severe injuries. Most people, myself included, would operate from within that fear, using it to create expectations of our partner, expectations that would eliminate our own discomfort of bearing witness to our significant other birthing their purpose. But, as a dreamer herself, Bianca knows what it is like to have that something that you must do; hers is singing. She takes responsibility for her own emotions, and gives Donnie the space to do what he must do. Even with the added responsibility of raising a daughter together, a prospect that would normally cause you to cling even more tightly, she supports him. The respect is mutual. New mom, Bianca, leaves the baby in the care of her father while she goes to the studio to do what her heart must. Honoring your talents, your vision, yourself is what gives you the ability to truly love others. As explained by Donnie, if he doesn’t fight, he is no good to anyone.
Creed II uses the power of storytelling to illustrate the complexities of life. And like life, each character has their own desires and fears. Sometimes they conflict with that of their loved ones. Sometimes they prompt a painful inner grappling. And sometimes, when we muster the courage to really look at ourselves, we realize they are both instrumental to our growth.