Review: Creed

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You patiently wait for it. You get a little tease when a hint of the theme is heard on piano when Rocky has a sad moment. But then, just when the last round of the climactic fight starts, bam! Bill Conti’s trumpet fanfare–the Rocky theme etched into our brains almost forty years ago.

Full disclosure: I have not seen any of the Rocky films except the first one. I figured they were all cash grabs and there was no need for any of the others. Creed, though, struck me differently. It is directed by an actual film director, Ryan Coogler (has Sylvester Stallone ever directed a good movie?) and Stallone did not even write this. It casts Rocky Balboa as a supporting character (although he has plenty of screen time) and while the template is the same–underdog takes on arrogant champ–there is a whole different, fresh feeling about it.

Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson. In a prologue, when Adonis is about ten, he is taken out of a juvenile home by Phylicia Rashad, who is Apollo Creed’s widow (he was killed in the ring in a previous film). Turns out he is Creed’s illegitimate son, but Rashad raises him as his own. He lives in luxury and is well-educated, having a great job at a financial firm. But he has the boxing jones, and goes to Tijuana for club fights. Since no one will train him in his hometown of L.A., he goes to Philadelphia to see if Rocky Balboa will train him.

Rocky resists, but not too hard, and Jordan will end up beating the flashy fighter at Mighty Mick’s Gym, and then, when it is revealed to the world that he is Apollo Creed’s son, the champ’s trainer and manager thinks it will be a nice payday for his guy to fight him, providing he changes his name to Creed. That fighter is played by Tony Bellew, a Liverpudlian, who is facing a prison term for a gun charge.

There’s plenty to like here. There’s a lot that is familiar–we get not one but two training montages, there’s a sweet romance between Jordan and his downstairs neighbor, a singer (Tessa Thompson, who is far too good-looking not to have already had a boyfriend), and Stallone as Rocky, with his thick, mumbly voice. Paulie and Adrian are dead, and who wouldn’t get a little choked up when he visits their graves. But they throw something at him that’s a bit much, though for a Rocky movie I guess is par for the course.

I imagine almost every director wants to make a boxing film, and Coogler makes the most of it. The first right is shown in real time (it only last two rounds) and is shot in extreme close-up. The second fight is also well-done, although doesn’t take the liberties that Rocky did (there’s no “cut me, Mick,” which would have never happened). The outcome is in great doubt. I also liked that so many familiar boxing people, like Michael Buffer and Jim Lampley, lend a realistic sheen to the proceedings. And Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon kill their cameo.

I don’t know of any other character that has been played by one actor for a longer period of time, not even Antoine Donel. James Bond has been around longer, but played by different actors and never aging. Rocky is unique in film in that he has been portrayed by the same actor for almost forty years, and people have never really tired of him. There may yet be another film, as Creed ends with things hanging. I think I would be up for Creed II.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

5 responses »

  1. To me, Rocky II is an essential continuation of Rocky. III, IV, and V kind of sucked, but Rocky Balboa was great. I’d rank Creed as fourth best in the franchise.

  2. I’ve never been a fan of the franchise but I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rocky Balboa. Sounds like 1, 6 and Creed are the way to go and the rest can be skipped.

  3. I’d at least recommend reading summaries of II, III & IV if you’re not going to watch. V can (& should) be skipped altogether.

    I agree that II is a great continuation of Rocky. Without II you never get to see him become champion, get married, or have a son. III is all about Rocky’s ego (whereas Apollo’s ego starred in 1 & 2 and the first part of 4) and how he & Apollo finally become friends. The familial interactions are great throughout. Adrian dies some time between V & VI and that plays a big part in VI, as does his son.

    Has Stallone directed a good movie? I’d say Rocky Balboa was good if slightly far-fetched. I love the series (though they get increasingly ridiculous up through 5) and can’t wait to see Creed.

  4. This is the product of being overtired:

    Rocky (classic), Rocky II (essential continuation), Rocky IV (solid hit filled to the brim with 80’s cheese: USSR Foe, Robots), Rocky 5 (worst of the series), Creed (seventh picture is a back-to-basics success)

    Halloween (classic), Halloween II (essential continuation), Halloween IV (solid hit filled to the brim with 80’s cheese: liberal use of fog machines, bad clothing), Halloween 5 (worst of series), H20 (seventh picture is a back-to-basics success)

  5. Yes – I would say Rocky II is as essential as Halloween II. To me Rocky and Rocky II are all one story. Sly dug into real problems athletes have and organically kept Rocky an underdog – and for my money it contains the superior running sequence. And in fact it’s actually Rocky II that made Coogler fall in love with the franchise.

    Then with III they really start being sequels – superfluous stuff where the opponents get increasingly cartoonish to pose a threat to Rocky. III and IV are good for the cheese value. IV is virtually just a series of music videos – Sly nails them, but you can’t take the movie seriously.

    V was an attempt to bring things back down to earth, but ended up depressing and was poorly directed by original director John G. Alvidsen, who had been absent for the last three entries. Rocky Balboa was Sly redeeming the franchise, finding a new angle to make Rocky an underdog again and making it compelling. It was basically a personal statement from Stallone – that he’s old, but not finished. And it was finally realistic boxing – shot in HD the way they do on HBO with the guys actually hitting each other instead of swinging a foot away. It was a perfect place to end the franchise, but Creed continues it honorably – save for like three moments that really pissed me off. But overall it’s close to as good as Balboa.

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