When all the world is calling you
A mere mistake, appalling you
And casting cruel and galling new
Abuse upon your back,
Perhaps you want to rage and hit
Or simply disengage and quit
Or seek out wars to wage a bit
Till no one’s left to smack,
But if you see through all the slights
And find the wherewithal that writes
A bigger man for taller fights,
You’ll scoff at their attack.
MPAA rating: PG-13
The Rocky franchise has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, and despite some positive aspects, 2006’s Rocky Balboa was a downer for me, which is why it took me this long to give its 2015 follow-up Creed a chance. Here, Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character is now a secondary player in the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of his old friend and rival Apollo. Adonis chooses the family business of boxing, much to the chagrin of his adopted mother/Apollo’s wife (Phylicia Rashad), and Rocky grudgingly becomes the trainer of this hotheaded rising star as he seeks to make a name for himself separate from that of his famous father.
I’ll say up front that Creed is probably the best directed of all the Rocky movies, with Ryan Coogler proving himself as a highly proficient talent behind the camera, giving me high expectations for the upcoming Black Panther. He changes the aesthetic of the series a bit to reflect his black protagonist, but also adds impressive tracking shots and an elegance to the camera movements and shot composition, which I suppose are also credited to cinematographer Maryse Alberti. The actual boxing scenes are just a fraction of the film’s rather long runtime, but they pack a “punch.” I’d say they’re some of the finest boxing scenes on film, particularly Adonis’s first official fight, which is marvelously captured as one continuous shot from start to finish.
Likewise, the performances measure up to the production quality, with Jordan and Stallone making the most of their conflicted characters. Jordan isn’t as luggishly lovable as Stallone was in his first outing, but his connection with the Italian Stallion, whom he fittingly calls “Unc,” is still engaging, as is his journey of finding a balance between distancing himself from and embracing the name of the father he never knew. Oscar-nominated again, Stallone steps easily into the trainer role Burgess Meredith played so well in the original, amusingly old-fashioned in the modern world but preserving some of the classic training methods that served him well. The script’s best parallel between the two comes when Rocky’s health takes an inevitable downturn, and Adonis encourages Rock to fight just like the young boxer he’s training. Because of that theme and despite Rocky’s being older and wearier here than in Rocky Balboa, Creed manages to be somehow far less depressing than that movie.
(I don’t know if it’s worth a spoiler warning for films that came out thirty-plus years ago, but spoilers in this paragraph.) The Rocky sequels can easily be accused of just killing off characters for the sake of some drama, starting with Mickey in Rocky III and followed by Apollo in Rocky IV, but Creed successfully deepens the tragedy of Apollo’s death in the fourth film. It meant he wasn’t there for his kids and that, even if he died a legend, he could have lived as a father. His shadow hangs over Adonis’s budding career, and the way it shapes him in the end makes for an inspiring conclusion to rival any of the previous Rocky films.
All that said, Creed doesn’t measure up in one big way, the music. For a series that gave us iconic montages to outstanding theme songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “No Easy Way Out,” there’s nothing even remotely that good in the musical department. Adonis’s girlfriend (Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok) is even a musician, but the hip hop and rap are pale modern shadows of those good ole ‘80s tunes.
Thus, Creed isn’t my favorite of the Rocky series, but its superior quality tells me it should be high. Despite some differences in tone and style, it has all the familiar underdog elements of a Rocky movie and even ends pretty comparably to the first. You know what? I’m done trying to separate these in my Top 365 List, which I usually only do for series where the quality varies widely between installments. Rocky IV may not be on the same technical level as this or the Oscar-winning original, but I still enjoy it. Therefore, I’m just going to group Creed with the other “good” Rocky movies, which I consider to be Rocky through Rocky IV. Creed succeeds where Rocky V and Rocky Balboa failed, and I personally hope the saga ends here. Stallone had planned to direct another sequel, but after his being caught up in the recent Hollywood accusation scandals, that may not happen, which I think is for the best. Leave both the new and the old Rocky on a high note.
Best line: (Rocky, pointing to Adonis’s reflection in the mirror) “That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face.”
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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