CREED Review – By the Numbers, Muddled, Predictable, But Entertaining…

creed-jordan
TRAILER

There’s a few things in this review that could be construed as mild spoilers. Honestly, though, if you’ve ever seen a Rocky movie, a sports film, or the trailer, you pretty much know what to expect. Fair warning!

The real fight that the film Creed faces is with the legacy of this franchise. Much in the same way that the character Adonis feels the need to earn his own way, so does this movie. This dichotomy creates a sort of meta-commentary, and let’s the savvy viewer in on the fact that it’s self aware. It’s a Rocky movie, but, then again, it’s kind of not. Yeah, it definitely is standing in the shadow of the franchise, but it’s younger, faster, stronger, and more current. Which both works for the film, and against it.

The central theme of the movie is the concept of legacy, or, more to the point, what a legacy actually means. On one end of the spectrum you have Rocky Balboa, who paved his own path and carved his own visage in stone, which the film literally references by showing tourists taking pictures with the statue of himself(One of those meta moments). On the other end we have Adonis, and by the time the movie starts he already he’s already standing in father’s shadow, which looms even larger due to the fact that Adonis never met Apollo. He died before he was even born.

Adonis has a weird chip on his shoulder. Yeah, he was born from infidelity, his dad died, his mom died, and he spent some unknown amount of time in foster care and juvenile detention, but all of these things happen before he reaches the age of ten, and it’s implied he only spent a year or two at most “in the system.” After that, he’s adopted by Apollo’s widow, spends the following eighteen years living in a mansion, going to the best schools… Pretty much having every social and economic advantage a person could have. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that, but the character makes reference to his “hard” childhood more than a few times without ever acknowledging the rest of his life. It’s the basis for why the character is so hungry for acceptance.

To be fair, maybe the film was trying to make some larger point about this. Maybe it meant to imply that this was part of his psychosis, in a way, and he needed to overcome that part of his life, and be more honest with himself. But the movie kind of fumbles that whole aspect. It’s never really explored outside of him bringing it up to make proclamation about why he “deserves” to be doing what he’s doing. It just really stuck out like a sore thumb to me because it constantly references the poor and working class, of which he’s not a part of. I’m sure it’s part of his journey to Mount Humility, but a lot of the connective tissue, that would have helped the trek come off a little more cogent, got lost somewhere along the way. Honestly, it’s probably on the cutting room floor. This is a pretty tightly paced movie, that has some real legs, so maybe they thought it was better to focus on the immediate rather than the larger, broader issues. Also, I guess it would make some decent sequel fodder, considering how the film ends, but I digress.

Basically, the classist stuff kind of bothers me because it’s never really addressed. It comes off as a weird blindspot, especially for a movie in a franchise that started out as working class fantasy fulfillment. The story of an average Joe that got to a shot at the big time, and proved himself worthy. Winning the lottery isn’t enough, it’s what you make of yourself in it’s wake. To be fair, Creed is a little similar, just in the other direction. So if Rocky was for blue collar dreamers, then, maybe, Creed is for slacker millennials? I don’t know, I should probably stew on that sentiment for a bit before I make a real call on that aspect.

It doesn’t end there, though. Actually, it’s kind of indicative of anything in the movie that tries to go beyond a by the numbers sports drama. It all feels kind of muddled once you start getting into the meat of the characters. I’m not sure what element of the film making process is to blame. Was it the script? Was it the choices made by the actors? Was it the editing process? I suspect the latter, honestly. There’s so many moments that the movie brushes against interesting sub-text and then completely drops it moments later; none of the arcs feel all that satisfying due to not really be explored at all.

It feels like two movies crammed together. The first hour feels like an origin story, while the second half plays out like Creed 2. He goes too far, way too fast. He’s too good, too fast. The movie already has a few montages, so why not have one that covers the first six months to a year of Adonis’ career, with Rocky as his trainer. By making him some kind of self trained prodigy from the get-go, the character’s emotional journey gets short changed. He’s trying to live up to the legend that is his father’s legacy, while also simultaneously trying to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be. It also devalues Rocky’s contribution to his ability as a boxer. Rocky had to be broken down and then built back up as a good boxer, he wasn’t just born that way. It makes for exciting drama, and make the character not only relatable, but also someone you want to succeed, someone you want to root for. In the case of young Adonis, he just needs to push a little bit harder, to train a little bit more, and then he’ll be able to go toe to toe with the current champ. I don’t know, it came off as a little silly to me. Like I said before, maybe he’s the poster boy for the millennial generation. “I mean, I got this, bit if you want to, like, contribute, then that would be cool.” I’m twenty-nine going on sixty, so take those comments for what they are: the opinion of a wannabe, haggered old  man.

Adonis and Rocky are meant to have a parallel journey about their own ideas of life affirmation. Why should they continue on? They’ve both been “abandoned,” one way or another, and in each other they find strength and family. Yeah, it’s corny, but I don’t mind a little corny sentiment in my Rocky sequels. I just wish all of these things were paid more than lip service. It contributes to the notion that I mentioned before about it feeling a little overstuffed. I’ll say this, though, it’s the only emotional beat that really feels resolved by the end of the movie.

Rocky has a third act “twist” that has to due with his failing health, and that becomes his “fight,” of which Adonis is a big part of him undertaking. I feel like his sickness should have loomed heavily over the whole movie. Like, Rocky should have been keeping it a secret. It would have provided him with something of a deeper level, and would have given his arc some much needed life. The way that the movie reveals the whole affair feels incredibly abrupt and way too late in the film. It gets rushed through, and lacks impact. Like I said before, the last forty percent of the movie feels like Creed 2, and I feel like this concept would have been better served as a big part of it’s own movie. Yes, I’m sure it will play a large part in the inevitable sequel, but in that case they should have just held that off until then.

I know I’ve kind of sounded down on the movie thus far, but I actually found the movie pretty entertaining. It’s well shot, well acted, and moves along fast enough that you might not even notice all the things I’ve been talking about. It’s really by the numbers, and almost nothing about it is surprising, but if you’re, in general, a fan of the franchise, then you’d probably feel satisfied. All of the superficial elements work pretty well.

The performances in the film are pretty good across the board. Michael B. Jordan’s turn as Adonis never really goes beyond serviceable, and the though “I’m actory, actor-man. Look at me act” popped into my head more than a few times, but serviceable is just that, serviceable. I can’t put my finger on it. He’s not a “bad” actor, it’s more that he just kind of lacks charisma.

Even though the movie is called Creed, and is about Adonis Creed, the real draw of this flick is the one and only Sylvester Stallone, and he does not disappoint here. In fact, it’s one of his best turns as the character ever. Listen, I really loved his performance in Rock Balboa, but he felt like more of a quotable caricature, and here we find him as an actual human being. Stallone maintains the character we know, but he feels like the more realistic and natural extension of the life experiences we know the character to have had. There’s a lot of subtle work going on in this performance. I really don’t know If I would have been interested in this movie at all if it wasn’t for old Sly, he’s why I went to see it, so the fact that he does good on another go with the character – seven time at this point – made me really happy. It’ll make you wish he’d stop wasting his time with mediocre action flicks, and try to do some stuff worth his talent and time in the last few years he’ll be working.

In my opinion, he’s still the draw for these films. It’s less of a passing of the torch scenario, and more of a sharing the screen situation, as he’s not fading into the background but has just become the co-star. Honestly, it probably holds the movie back, as it feels the need to give Rocky a story alongside of Adonis, making his story under served at times. To be clear, though, I would not have enjoyed this movie as much as I did without him, and my interest in this series completely hinges on his presence and journey.

I really loved the direction and look of the film. It has a very old-school looking aesthetic to it that will definitely remind you of the first Rocky, before the series became bright and shiny Hollywood movies. It makes the movie feel a little more grounded.

Creed is not going to blow your mind. It has a lot of elements that feel incredibly under cooked, and will leave you mildly annoyed by the confused messaging of the story. BUT, I still had a pretty good time. There’s a reason why these kind of movies are formulaic, because the formula generally works. Yeah, I wish it packed the emotional wallop that it wants to, but as it stands you could do worse. I know, not a ringing endorsement, but, eh, it is what it is. If anything, give it a rent if you’re a fan of the series. It’s worth checking out just to see Stallone play Rocky again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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