It’s typically very hard to get me invested in a sports movie. Part of that is because, outside of soccer, I don’t care at all about sports. As a result, I have trouble getting properly invested in the conflicts of most sports movies, since I have trouble caring about the drama. The other issue is that they tend to be somewhat cliched and predictable. How many times can I see the good team make the final goal/touchdown/basket/I dunno, punch at the last second, before it gets boring?
There are a handful of exceptions to this rule, and one of them is Rocky. This is partially because Rocky eschews a lot of sports movies cliches, but also because it’s a genuinely fantastic movie, both as a sport’s movie and on its own merits. However, Rocky‘s many sequels are not exceptions, because they’re all variations on disappointing, dull or just plain bad. So while the idea of a spinoff about the son Apollo Creed had me interested (not least because its star and director previously worked together on 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station) I was more than a little hesitant going in.
The plot is devoted to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. After the death of his mother and bouncing around foster care for a while, he is adopted by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad). Flash forward to modern day, and Adonis is determined to be a boxer, on his own merits rather than using his father’s last name as a jump forward.
But he can’t resist his father’s legacy entirely. So when the local trainers refuse to work with him, thinking growing up with his father’s money made him soft, he travels to Philadelphia, where I’ve heard it’s always sunny. There he seeks out one of the only men to ever give his father a challenge, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, like you don’t kn0w), to train him. He also catches the eye of Bianca (Tessa Thompson) a musician with degenerative hearing loss.
To say that Creed is the best Rocky film since Rocky is to sell it far short. Rocky Balboa managed to be the best Rocky film since Rocky by merely being decent. Creed is a genuinely great film, with a fantastic pair of performances at its center, and a couple truly excellent moments of direction, and the first sequel to the original I could honestly consider to be a worthy follow up to the original movies.
The big performances at the center are that of Jordan and Stallone. Michael B. Jordan has been a promising up and comer since he was on The Wire 13 years ago, and he’s really excellent here. There’s a lot to his character, from his refusal to use Creed’s name, to the dissonance between the harshness of his early life and the luxury of his adolescence, and Jordan is tasked with handling all of them. The movie is riding on him to give a good performance, alongside looking credibly in shape to be a boxers, and he makes it work.
But the fact that Jordan is excellent isn’t a surprise, he’s been great in most of the stuff he’s been in (most, I stress). The big surprise is that Stallone is also incredible. I’m tempted to write that Stallone has been on a bit of a downturn, but really that’s understating. His career since 1990 has been far more crap than quality, and it’s beginning to call into question his status as a good actor. But after this movie it’s no longer in question. He handles an encore performance of the role that put him on the map with quiet dignity and and underplayed sense of reality. Rocky in this movie is a very different person from even 2 movies ago, but Stallone is willing to go all in on the performance, especially in the third act when…well I won’t spoil.
The direction is also gorgeous. Ryan Coogler previously worked with Jordan on Fruitvale Station, where he favored long shots and open spaces, and that’s still present here. But he kicks it up a notch here, taking some basic camera work and tight editing and creating some of the most striking and engaging shots and scenes of 2015 outside of The Martian or maybe Mad Max.
He also takes some of the staples of the Rocky franchise, such as training montages and music choices, and reworks them in ways that make them distinct but still recognizable. Rocky is by no means one of my favorite movies (and as stated earlier, I don’t care about sports or boxing) but it’s hard not to get excited when Gonna Fly Now kicks up in an intense moment. By the end of the film, I was reacting to individual punches or hard moments in the fights.
Not that it’s perfect, although many of them are due to having to work with the franchise’s baggage. The film is basically trying to work within the basic outline of the plot of the previous films, without addressing the individual plots (at no point does a robot show up to sing Happy Birthday) which feels awkward sometimes. While I’m on the subject of previous films, while I understand that they probably needed a love interest, Bianca is a bit of a dropped ball, as her subplot sort of peters out without a proper resolution, even if she’s well acted. Also, while it’s a minor thing, the movie opens talking about the physical toll boxing can take on you, but never brings it up again, which I found a little disappointing (guess I gotta wait for Concussion).
There’s not a lot wrong with the film overall though, even I’m loathe to talk about the plot in depth (it feels a little predictable, but that could just be Rocky‘s untouchable legacy hanging over it, and it’s still engaging enough). The year is winding down and we’re deep into awards season. And Creed is sure to be an awards nominee at the very least (I’m expecting Supporting Actor nods for Stallone and probably a solid number of Actor ones for Jordan) and probably a staple of Best of the Year lists. Don’t let its somewhat dopey premise fool you, Creed is a real winner, a worthy follow up to the original and easily the best sports movie in years.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile, and he’d like to apologize to his friend for sarcastically singing With Arms Wide Open all day.
– fantastic lead and supporting performances
– gorgeous cinematography and editing
– great soundtrack and solid screenplay
– Bianca’s subplot is kind of weak
– plot feels somewhat predictable
– no appearance of the Happy Birthday Paulie robot