Saturday, November 28, 2015


If you paid attention to the Rocky movies then you know Apollo Creed's personal life always played the background. His personality was so big that it distracted from everything else (plus he wasn't the main character so there wasn't any time to delve in to his life outside of the ring in addition to Rocky's). This adds an interesting quality to Creed as the character of "Adonis Creed" (Michael B. Jordan) was the product of a character who folks often forget had a life outside of boxing.
This is all afterthought however. I wasn't prepared to give this film the credit it deserves prior to seeing it. Like a lot of people, when the news of yet another Rocky movie started making waves I thought to myself: "...another one?!" But I knew even over a year ago when I first found out about this movie that I was going to see it no matter how skeptical I was.
What was it that drew me to Creed? Was it the Rocky franchise residue/nostalgia factor it carried (like a lot of 80's kids, I grew up watching the Rocky movies so much that it left a lasting impression on my movie brain)? Was it the well-cut trailer (other studio movies should take note on how to cut a proper movie trailer)? Perhaps I wanted it to be good because it was the sophomore feature of a young up & coming filmmaker (Ryan Coogler) that I want to see succeed. I also caught a recent screening of Fat City (probably one of the three greatest boxing movies of all time) so the genre is pretty fresh in my psyche at the moment and I have a greater appreciation for (good) boxing movies.
Maybe it was a combination of all of the above and more (I'm also a fan of Michael B. Jordan and I didn't want him to end the year with Fantastic Four being the last thing on his 2015 filmography).

I had a feeling Creed would be entertaining but I didn't expect it to be this well-made. Sure the film plays on cliche storylines like the role of the father figure, the idea of "passing the torch", and Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa making the transition from boxer to trainer, which is really what Rocky 5 should have been (not only is Stallone the same age as Burgess Meredith was when he first took on the role of Mickey, but there's a middle section in Creed that kind of plays out just like an important moment in Rocky 3).

But sometimes it doesn't matter how cliche something is but rather how well it's executed. And Creed was executed quite well. The premise is simple & straightforward (Apollo Creed's illegitimate son seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him to be a better fighter), the performances are solid (Stallone did a lowkey great job), the pacing of the movie is good, and Coogler makes Creed its own (somewhat) separate entity. ...Kind of. The look, feel, music & all around ambiance is different from all the other Rocky movies with the exception of maybe Rocky Balboa. There has to be some sort of a tie-in/connection with the Rocky franchise and Ryan Coogler definitely does that. Not only do certain key moments in Creed play off of key moments in Rocky 1, but the final fight between Adonis Creed & opponent Ricky Conlan is right out of Rocky 4.
But at the same time, when Sylvester Stallone isn't on camera you sometimes forget you're watching a Rocky movie.

And as cliche as Creed is at times, it also doesn't give any false or blind hope in parts where you think things are going to magically work out. In one scene early on in the film Adonis gets his ass handed to him in the ring just after acting brash & confident like his father. And in the final fight, Creed's walk out to the ring isn't very triumphant or even that adrenaline pumping. Instead, he approaches the ring with caution and a little bit of fear (I appreciate Creed's honesty in moments like this because boxers are incredibly vulnerable at times no matter how tough they are).

I guess my only issue with Creed is that the title character's rise & popularity in the boxing world happens way too fast (almost like Jamie Foxx's Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday). Legacy or not, you don't get a title shot as fast as he did. But that's really nitpicking on my part. That kind of stuff is to be expected in a movie like this so it really isn't that big of a deal (on a sillier note, I wonder why Carl Weathers didn't make a ghostly cameo like he did in Happy Gilmore).

The cinematography, courtesy of Maryse Alberti (Poison, Velvet Goldmine, The Wrestler, etc), deserves its own separate write-up. It's the perfect combination of flashiness & technical prowess (almost like a good boxer). It may take some of you minutes to even catch on that a lot of the fight scenes in Creed are done in one fluid shot without any breaks (Maryse definitely upped her in-ring camera work since The Wrestler).
But again - if you paid attention the Rocky movie then you know great cinematography is nothing new to the franchise (the first Rocky film is always noted for its Steadicam usage).

Creed successfully bridged a new era of fresh Rocky content with the old classic material. Instead of trying to desperately squeeze out the last bit of nostalgia from the old Rocky, Ryan Coogler set up a whole new potential franchise that can pretty much stand on it's own (with a few callbacks here & there). I only hope younger folks who aren't familiar with the older films will seek them out (leaving the theater I seriously overhead one young girl ask her boyfriend "soooo who was Apollo Creed? Like, some guy who died?" So yeah, we have some work to do). At the end of the day Creed had no business being as good as it turned out and is definitely a top 10 contender for 2015.


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