It’s hard to judge a film like Creed that fits into an established franchise that has been beloved for such a long time. Like with James Bond and Star Wars this year, it’s much easier to and more natural to compare Creed to its other Rocky predecessors rather than just evaluate it as a film in general. I’m not sure how successful my review on these two criteria is going to be, but I can tell you this: I really liked the movie.
The film opens in a juvenile detention center and two boys are fighting. One of them is Adonis Johnson (played as an adult by Micheal B Jordan), and a woman visiting him tells him that his father Apollo Creed was her husband and died before he was born, and asks him if he would like to live with her. He does, and fast forward to adulthood where his is sneaking off to Mexico to box under the radar while keeping up a boring desk job. He feels so inclined to fight professionally that he quits his day job and moves to Philadelphia in the hopes that his father’s old rival/friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) will train him. Reluctant at first, he eventually agrees and the two form a strong bond as they both fight their individual battle together.
Though all of this has been seen before, presumably in every Rocky movie ever made (though I haven’t seen them all), it works just as well here as in those previous films. This is true even though Rocky himself take a supporting role, one that was originally occupied by Burgess Meredith’s Micky. It’s extremely satisfying to see Stallone at work here as the lovable lug that Rocky Balboa has always been, just a little bit older and a little bit wiser, especially in contrast to Donnie.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, finding it an extremely skilled example of shameless emotional manipulation. These perhaps more emotional tendencies seem much more acceptable in a Rocky film if they are even present at all. Though one of the plot points is that Rocky has to battle cancer which can often feel over-manipulative, it often parallels quite nicely with the typical training montages we’ve seen before in other films (and see again in this one).
Stallone really is the only familiar face we see here, besides the graves of series regulars Adrian and Paulie, and of course the city of Philadelphia itself. The new faces more than make up for this- it’s very easy to get behind both Micheal B Jordan’s Donnie and Tessa Thompson’s Bianca. They’re both great characters, well developed and relatable, reasonable people. The two leads both have great screen presence and chemistry with each other; reminding us that the original Rocky was just as much a love story as it was a boxing movie, maybe more so.
It’s always interesting to me to see how they choreograph and shoot the actual fights in boxing movies, and Coogler and DP Maryse Alberti certain have give me something of interest here. The first real fight Donnie gets in is shot is one extended take, or at least it seems to be. This had me marveling at the filmmakers’ prowess, but also had me a bit distracted from what was actually going on onscreen. But after viewing the whole film and reflecting on how this contrast with the final fight at the end (shot more conventionally with percussive edits), I realizes that the one take had a clear purpose; just like in Goodfellas it shows how perfectly everything is coming together for Donnie. Compared to what he has to go through later, the first is a walk in the park. Coogler and Alberti can afford to lavish style on it, but later both they and their characters have to get down to business.
Another great thing to be said for Creed is that it balances the franchise’s legacy with new material slightly better than Star Wars did this year. Only a couple of shots were quoted and they even perhaps did a better job of hanging new characters on the sold framework of an old narrative. But maybe that’s only because I’m not as familiar with the Rocky franchise. It has a few problems, the only significant one being that it drags just a tad in the middle. Overall though, it goes the distance and then some.
“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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