Review – Creed

Creed is a really fun film with a fresh take on the Rocky franchise. But, at times, I felt like I was watching an early cut of the film. With one more pass, it could have been a truly great film, instead of the fun, but flawed version we ended up with.

The film centers around Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of boxing great Apollo Creed. After his father was killed in the ring, Johnson grew up in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention centers. Eventually, Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), discovers Johnson’s existence and adopts him, raising him as her own.

Mary Anne provides Adonis with a comfortable life, but understandably her only wish is that he doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a boxer. So Johnson trains in secret, taking matches in Mexico to gain experience (and fighting under the last name Johnson and not Creed). Once he goes as far as he can in secret, Adonis quits his day job and leaves California to seek out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his father’s friend and biggest competitor, in order to talk Rocky into training him.

This is a clever twist on the Rocky mythos. The original Rocky film is one of the most famous underdog sports movies ever made. But Creed inverts the formula. Adonis isn’t a traditional underdog. Instead, he’s perceived as a legacy boxer who came from wealth cashing in on his father’s name. (This is all untrue – the privilege came after years of struggle and Adonis tries to hide his parentage, though it eventually surfaces anyway – but it’s still how he is seen to the world at large.)

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Where things begin to get a bit muddled is in finding a Goliath to Adonis’ David. After seeming to set up a number of other fighters as rivals – first a pro boxer who knocks Adonis down during a sparing session in California, then the son of one of Rocky’s friends who takes umbrage with Rocky training Adonis and not him – Creed sloppily introduces us to light heavyweight champion “Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), who is looking for one last fight before being stripped of his title and sent off to jail.

Bellew does his best to sell us on Conlan, but the film completely shortchanges him. He’s introduced too late in the film and isn’t given enough screen time to make “Pretty” Rick a memorable foe. The stakes would have felt higher and the emotional journey more compelling if Conlan had been handled better.

One other misstep the film makes is in a handful of non sequitors that don’t land. These are moments that were designed to be quirky, funny moments that simply don’t land, at least not in the showing I attended. The oddest of which was when Adonis was preparing for a fight and stopped the proceedings because he needed to use the bathroom. In addition to not getting a laugh, it killed the momentum that was building for the impending fight. It was such an odd choice. And while I can certainly appreciate taking chances like that, those are the things that should be scrubbed out in earlier cuts or after not getting a reaction in test screenings.

Speaking of the fights, they were mostly top notch. Co-writer/director Ryan Coogler has several fights that are shot in one fluid take with the camera moving around the fighters as they pound on each other. It immerses you in the bouts and makes you feel every punch. But while most of the fights are amazing from top to bottom, the final boxing match takes a few chances visually, with some working better than others. I found one of Coogler’s choices incredibly distracting – he had the background dim halfway through the fight, presumably to draw focus to the weary boxers, but it just felt really odd and out of place.

I can forgive these missteps though because Michael B. Jordan is just so damn charming in the lead role. He makes you instantly like Adonis. You’re invested in his journey. And Jordan has great chemistry with Sylvester Stallone. Rocky and Adonis make good foils for each other. And many of their emotional scenes together are genuinely moving.

I also really liked Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Most boxing movie girlfriends are wet blankets who exist to try to talk their man out of getting into the ring. But Bianca completely supports Adonis’ quest and, as a Philadelphia native, has a clear appreciation of Rocky’s career.

Creed isn’t a perfect film. In fact, at times it feels sloppy and unpolished. But it is a fun, fresh take on a dormant franchise that reminds us what made Rocky so great in the first place.

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Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com

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