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Monday, November 23, 2015

Movie Review: 'Creed'

Creed re-invigorates the Rocky story as much as it celebrates the rise of another familiar Balboa name.

Review by Matt Cummings

For all the misses behind the recent slew of boxing genre films, it’s clear that audiences desire its inclusion with comic book and other action films. And while Creed celebrates the return of the beloved Rocky name, it also delivers a fairly powerful human story.

Adonis Johnson (Alex Hendersonm) is a troubled orphan whose stay in the LA juvenile detention center is relieved when an unexpected visit from Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) reveals that he is the illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Fast-forward 20 years, and Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) has decided that his plush life and recent promotion aren’t enough, and decides to box illegally in Tijuana. Against the wishes of his mother, Andonis leaves LA for Philadelphia, in the hopes that none other than Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) will agree to train him. After the two eventually join forces, their newly-minted friendship will yield hard-fought triumph, but not before devastating news arrives that not even The Italian Stallion can withstand.

Creed is as much about the reinvigoration of Stallone as it is about bringing back the brand. It’s clearly his best performance in years, adding a likable and stirring portrayal into what would have been just another 2015 boxing film (no offense to Southpaw). The best part of Creed lies in Rocky knowing he can no longer fight, but that he can affect the path of Adonis. Stallone gives great subtly to his performance as man who’s truly alone, having outlived Adrian and even his buddy Paulie. It’s not something he’s proud of, but when Creed enters the picture, he sees the last phase of his life come together, even if he won’t admit it to his young protégée. But the film is more than two boxers collaborating to win a big fight, and when the turn comes Stallone moves the movie into a much deeper story than perhaps we were expecting.

Tessa Thompson delivers a magnetic performance as Creed’s musician girlfriend who’s slowly losing her hearing. She offers a soothing calm to Creed’s almost-badger-like personality, even though their initial meetings aren’t exactly love at first sight. Director/Writer Ryan Coogler’s effort is impressive, both in its visual construction (a series of great freeze shots showing off the records of Creed’s opponents) and the way he pushes his cast to deliver top-flight performances. If there’s any criticism of his efforts it’s the runtime: at a leisurely 132 minutes, we spend too much time setting up the training and engaging in small talk that robs it of its momentum in parts. What is effective are the one-shot sequences of an early fight, as well as Rocky and Creed walking from the training room to their showdown with 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). They’re nice and I wouldn’t trade it for another sequence, but with smaller scenes also giving additional long looks, it does slow the film down.

But just like the ebb and flow of a bout, Coogler regains his form by sticking to the character drama, focusing on those burgeoning relationships and fears that Balboa and XX have for Creed’s mental wellbeing. Coogler also taps in to his obvious affection for Philadelphia with several memorable location shots featured in the original Rocky. He also employs a great score, courtesy of Composer Ludwig Goranson, who effectively merges the orchestrated melodies of the 1970’s with modern electronic soundscapes. It’s like the two time periods had the coolest retro baby possible, adding to the chic urban element of motorcycles, crowded clubs, and mass transit high above old-school boxing gyms.

While it’s a little too long, Creed celebrates the best parts of the Rocky franchise. Stallone and Jordan make a solid combo, but its story of moving out of someone else’s shadow is a bit formulaic and trots on safe territory instead of expanding it. Still, it’s a definite majority win-by-decision rather than a Knock Out for Coogler’s first studio production.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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