This story contains spoilers for Creed II.
There was once a time, as hard as it may be to recall, when a Rocky spin-off starring Michael B. Jordan was not a guaranteed blockbuster. When Creed came out in 2015, the director, Ryan Coogler, only had one feature to his name: the 2013 Sundance award winner Fruitvale Station. And Jordan (who starred in Fruitvale Station) was best known as a TV actor whose other 2015 film, Fantastic Four, had flopped. What a difference three years make. Following Creed’s success and the massive cultural phenomenon that was Coogler’s follow-up, Black Panther, Creed II opened to an impressive $55 million at the Thanksgiving box office, confirming the dawn of yet another franchise.
Creed II was directed by Steven Caple Jr., who, like Coogler, is a young African American director whose first feature movie was a low-budget indie (The Land). But it’s hard to watch the sequel without noticing the absence of Coogler, a filmmaker with a particular gift for taking the familiar strokes of the Hollywood hero’s journey and making them feel fresh and thematically relevant. Creed was a quasi-remake of Rocky that also functioned as a spin-off: It moved Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) into a supporting role and focused on the emergence of Adonis Creed (Jordan), the son of Rocky’s deceased rival and friend, Apollo. Just as Creed was a new Rocky, Creed II fits the mold of every Rocky sequel—competent, entertaining, and a little passionless.