Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Phylicia Rashad, Tessy Thompson
Sylvester Stallone has gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination for bringing back Rocky Balboa 39 years after the first film. It’s a solid performance, reminiscent of his subtle work in Cop Land and a scant few scenes in Expendables 2.
This seventh Rocky film is desperately trying for more, to raise the entire franchise from the mat. Even though Creed is enjoyable in a nostalgic way, the flick’s clichés, an unsurprising plot, and overplayed moments keep it from being a total knockout.
Adonis Creed (a well toned, committed Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s first enemy and later his best friend. Apollo’s saint of a wife finds Adonis in a juvie, and she brings him to her LA mansion to raise him. However, she cannot purge the boy of his father’s urge to box. The young man runs away to Philly to find Rocky and beg for training.
The truth is – despite Adonis being half-raised in a rich house and Rocky being once poor – their stories are basically the same. Adonis is rough and gritty because of his years in foster care and juvenile prison. He’s even an orphan. That down-on-his-luck history may partially explain why the retired boxer would train the younger. It also means there isn’t a lot new here plot-wise.
At least some innovation could’ve been found in Adonis’s genetics, his connection to a father who let his boxing career kill him. The movie doesn’t plumb those aspects enough.
The actors give it their all, though. Stallone is great bringing warmth to his old character. Jordan still delivers a sense that he’s better than anything he’s shot since Fruitvale Station (which had the same director, Ryan Coogan.)
Despite the rehashing of the plot, at least the direction is sound – and often exciting. Director Coogler sure knows how to shoot a film; he also proved that a couple years ago with the brilliant, heartbreaking biopic Fruitvale Station. Creed continues his wonderful work shifting focus from character to character, as well as using handheld digital cameras in long action shots. The scenes in the ring are shot at a high frame rate, so everything looks electric and crisp. The rest – the poorer, grittier stuff – is fuzzier, grayer, again referencing the original film.
Maybe Coogler could’ve edited Creed a little tighter. Since this is basically a rehash, 2 hours and 13 minutes seems a little long.
Overall, what I call “reminiscence movies” have their place. They play the same music, they ape the original shots, and we thrill with memory. However, they’ll never be classics in film study, they’ll never push the art form forward, despite how much they make at the box office. (Yes, I’m also talking to you The Force Awakens.)
I really feel nostalgia is why Stallone got nominated. It’s a sweet transition for Rocky, from the champ into the Burgess Meredith role for one more boxing film. As the elder sage, he gives us good reason to think this isn’t the worst nomination ever.
So, for a couple hours, Creed can basically remind us why the original Rocky was so satisfying. This new battle is definitely the best of the six films since the first round. Creed may or may not win Stallone anything (if it does, it’s a nostalgia vote), but – just for memories sake – maybe it’s worth one more waltz around the ring.