While it doesn’t shift from the standard boxing movie story arc, recent “Rocky” spin-off “Creed,” directed by Ryan Coogler of “Fruitvale Station” fame, makes for an entertaining film and a worthy successor to the iconic franchise.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky Balboa’s erstwhile rival, Apollo Creed. The film begins by showing the aftermath of Apollo’s fatal defeat by Russian killing machine Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” Since then, Adonis has become plagued by the absence and shadow of his father, and goes through the first half of the film with a large chip on his shoulder to prove that he is capable of making it on his own. Ultimately, Adonis finds Rocky Balboa, played by an aged Sylvester Stallone, who trains him to become a professional boxer.
The trainer-fighter relationship between Jordan and Stallone is the centerpiece of the film, and makes for some of its more memorable moments. Stallone provides great character work in a graceful transition from the boxing hotshot to the jaded and emotionally reserved mentor. Likewise, Jordan, who rose to fame with Coogler as the main actor in “Fruitvale Station,” turns in a solid performance as Adonis. However, his dialogue early in the film is stilted and awkward, and his character development feels rushed and incomplete even for a two-hour movie.
“Creed” also provides significant thematic depth. The film grapples with the conflict of a son living in the shadow of his father’s legacy. Much is made of Adonis’ internal struggle over whether to take advantage of his father’s name to jumpstart his career or fly under the radar as a no-name, up-and-coming boxing prospect. There is a little overkill in Jordan’s me-against-the-world mentality, especially as other characters in the movie constantly remind him that he doesn’t have the typical boxing background of poverty and squalor, but was instead raised in the comfort of wealth.
While it is a solid boxing film, “Creed” falls victim to the unoriginality that plagues other films in the genre. Practically since their inception, boxing movies have been ill reputed for their reliance on one of two narratives: the established contender down on his luck, or the prospect with emotional baggage hoping to make a name for himself. As the story goes, after hitting rock bottom in his career and family life, the burly yet vulnerable protagonist bounces back through dedication to self-improvement, often with the assistance of a sage, older trainer. While most boxing movies play on these formulaic components, films that dare to deviate from this trope can make for truly transcendent pieces, as is the case in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” and Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Unfortunately, “Creed” repeats a formulaic narrative.
In addition, no boxing movie would be complete without a series of fighting sequences and training montages. What the action sequences here lack in innovation and originality, they nevertheless make up for in their visceral, bloody and realistic visuals. Though the hallmark training montages of the “Rocky” franchise have been revamped for the modern era, there is sadly no scene in a slaughterhouse using meat as punching bags.
In the era of constant Hollywood reboots, “Creed” is one of the few that actually works. It is a relatively fresh and engaging take on an old story, and will likely spawn multiple sequels. The performances are also solid and engaging. Jordan is one of the new faces of Hollywood, and “Creed” is sure to raise his profile even higher. All in all, the film is sure to please both fans and strangers to Stallone’s legendary franchise.
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