Creed

Creed is a 2015 American sports drama film starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. It was directed by Ryan Coogler. It is technically the seventh film in the Rocky franchise. It is the only film in the franchise not to have been written by Stallone, instead Creed is written by Coogler and Aaron Covington. Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan reunite here after first collaborating on the film Fruitvale Station, which dramatized the tragic real life death of a man named Oscar Grant, played by Jordan.

I, admittedly, have never seen any of the previous Rocky films in their entirety. Though I have an interest of sorts in the sport of boxing, I have just had no desire to see them. I believe that may be in part to the unbearable level of cartoonish cheese found purportedly found in the later films in the franchise, more specifically Rocky IV, in which Rocky must fight a genetically engineered Russian boxer named Ivan Drago (I will break you) in the Olympics because America. Rocky IV is the first film in the franchise I had ever seen, and it felt really stupid to me, even at about ten years old. I went back to go see what everyone thought was so great about them, and to my surprise, the first few films in the franchise were non-ridiculous, true-to-heart underdog sports dramas. What happened? I understand Rocky IV was released in 1985 and Russians made great bad guys (they honestly always will), but as someone born after the Cold War in 1995, that whole Olympics plotline seems forced and hokey to me. And why was it half of a sci-fi film? A robot butler and a genetically-engineered super Russian? Bleh. I will say, portraying what basically amounts to a robot with zero emotions, Dolph Lundgren gives the best performance of his career.

So I haven’t seen any of the previous films. I know the story behind Rocky and Apollo Creed (Dolt… I mean Dolph…  kills him). I was drawn to this film having appreciated (enjoyed is the wrong word for that type of thing) Fruitvale Station. I also liked the cinematography and lighting of the above trailer, as well as seeing the series go back to a legitimate plot that doesn’t involve stupid robo butlers or genetic engineering.

Though the steps and the montage are burned into the memory of anyone who’s ever heard the name Rocky, it was before my time, and before the time of many others as well. I think that Coogler understands this.Though certainly a spin-off of the Rocky franchise, it stands entirely alone. There is absolutely no fan service to be found in this film, it is not exploiting viewers’ nostalgia at all. I think that is because Coogler knew there might not be much audience nostalgia to play to. I don’t know a lot of people my age who have seen Rocky or appreciated its merits, and that’s fine because I am, for once, certainly one of those people.

Creed tells a story in which no previous knowledge of the franchise whatsoever is necessary at all. If this was the first movie you had ever seen, you’d still be on the same page as everyone else. (and may I just say you are off to a wonderful start) Creed is about Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the illegitimate son of the famous late boxer Apollo Creed. Adonis is adopted by Apollo’s wife, Marianne. He is raised well and has a successful job. Being the son of a boxer,  Adonis wins several fights in Tijuana dive bars, and remains undefeated. Arrogant and full of pride, Adonis quits his job to go fight and train full time. With nobody in his hometown Los Angeles willing to train him or take him seriously, he travels to Philadelphia to seek out his father’s close friend and former rival, Rocky Balboa. Balboa reluctantly agrees to train the young Adonis. What follows is a classic sports tale of legacy, redemption, and love.

I must admit that I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of Sylvester Stallone. I can rarely understand a word that comes out of his mouth and, up until now, did not consider him a good actor. I must humbly admit that I was wrong all this time. While still unable to understand some of his dialogue, that’s the point. Balboa has taken a lot of blows in his career and, like Muhammad Ali, that has affected his motor skills and speech patterns, making Stallone’s usual mumbling less of a problem in this film. Stallone gives a truly great and believable performance here, acting as a father figure to Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis. All of the acting here is on point, in fact, with both leads giving one of the best performances in both their careers.

The script by Coogler and Covington elevates the film beyond a simple franchise sequel, giving Creed its own place in the sports film pantheon. It is coherent, tight, focused, and wastes no time on subplots that don’t need to be there or pointless annoying nostalgia trips. Excluding the presence of Rocky,  thanks to Coogler’s directing and scripting, it doesn’t even feel like a Rocky story, and that’s mainly because it’s not about Rocky or his legacy, but rather the story of Adonis and the legacy of the Creed name. For the majority of the film, Adonis goes by the last name Johnson, yearning badly to make a name for himself without being burdened by his father’s legacy. “You are your father’s son, and you’re part of him, but that doesn’t mean you have to be him!” Adonis’ journey to become a boxing great like his father and his paternal mentor is paralleled by his realization that both he and his mother were wrong. In order to truly be great, he has to accept and live up to (therefore “be”) Apollo.

Creed is a film about sports, and a sport as fast, vicious, and primal as boxing can be difficult to realistically portray on screen in a cinematic and entertaining fashion. Creed accomplishes this feat admirably, thanks to breathtaking cinematography by one Maryse Alberti. Several have called attention to a particularly entertaining scene in the film: A boxing match between Adonis and Leo “The Lion” Sporino. The highly choreographed and intense fight, complete with gradual makeup effects (i.e. blood and bruises) was apparently done in one continuous shot, called a “long take.” In film and television, when physically filming, there is a point where filming must stop and the director says “cut.” (because the editor must later cut and splice two bits of film together in order to create a cohesive film) A long take is just like it sounds, a long period of continuous film that is not altered or edited in any way . Long takes are normally used to establish a “realistic” sense of time, rather than an “expressionist” sense of time. That part of things is complicated and artsy and academic, though. Examples of good long takes include the opening scene of The Godfather and the excellent undercover operation in the first season of HBO’s True Detective.

Long take fight scenes are good because it keeps the tension up throughout more effectively than, say, the quick cuts and edits found in the Bourne franchise. The long take in Creed is very unique because of the makeup effects involved. I am curious how they accomplished the scene. In any event, it’s awesome and I’m not going to spoil it here.

Creed is an entertaining, all around well-made sports film that succeeds on every level, impactful even to those who know little to nothing about the story of Rocky Balboa. It is a film that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone from any walk of life, regardless of their usual preferences in movies.

 

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