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Josh Reviews Creed

January 4th, 2016
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I don’t have any attachment to the Rocky series.  In fact, the only Rocky film I have ever seen is the very first one, the 1976 original.  I loved it, but I never had any burning desire to continue on to watch all the sequels.  When I first read about Creed, I wasn’t interested.  But I’ve really enjoyed the work of Michael B. Jordan (cast here in the lead role as Adonis Johnson Creed), and over the past month I have seen review after review heaping incredible amounts of praise on the film.  And I must admit that the film’s trailers made it look great, something of interest to a non-Rocky-fan like me.  I finally decided that I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  I was not disappointed, and that’s putting it mildly.  Creed is phenomenal, a rich and resonant film that actually got me quite choked up in a few places.  Holy shit, I can’t believe the seventh film in this boxing franchise made me cry!!

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Michael B. Jordan, as I’ve already noted, plays Adonis.  When we meet him, Adonis is using the last name of Johnson, but we quickly learn that he’s the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in the first several Rocky films).  Adonis has a good life.  He has a loving mother, a nice house and a good job.  But in his heart he wants to be a boxer like his father, even though in most other ways he tries to deny everything about his father, most particularly his famous last name.  Adonis moves to Philadelphia to track down his father’s rival and friend, Rocky, begging Rocky to coach him.  Rocky has tried to put his life in boxing behind him, living a quiet life running a small restaurant (named after Adrian).  Rocky initially refuses, but Adonis persists, and eventually Rocky begins to warm up to him, agreeing to help.

The over-all plot of this film is familiar, but it works because that familiar structure is used to tell a surprisingly emotional story about the relationship forged between these two men, Adonis and Rocky, and the powerful demons they each still carry with them.

Sylvester Stallone is magnificent in the film.  I can’t believe how good he is.  Writer/director Ryan Coogler (the script was co-written by Aaron Covington) has crafted a perfect role for Mr. Stallone, putting Rocky into the Mickey role as Creed’s wizened, elder-statesman trainer.  It’s a brilliant idea, and Mr. Stallone absolutely kills it.  He plays Rocky with such sadness and loneliness that he makes it impossible for the audience not to root for the big galoot.

After seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and its story of an elderly Han Solo, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether it ever works to see what happens to a mythic hero past his prime.  It certainly didn’t work when Harrison Ford tried it in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  In The Force Awakens, I quite enjoyed Mr. Ford’s performance as an older Han, though I have mixed feelings about where his story went.  In my review, I compared it to seeing the death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, which I found unsatisfying.  On the other hand, a few films earlier, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan crafted a spectacular story out of the aging Captain Kirk.  Earlier this year I also really loved Mr. Holmes, which was a story about a very old Sherlock Holmes.  So it can be done.  Creed gets everything exactly right in this regards, using the character of Rocky perfectly and getting a lot of mileage out of the emotional weight that Mr. Stallone brings to the role.  That we loved Rocky when he (and Mr. Stallone) was a young man means that we feel for him all the more seeing him here as a lonely older man.

Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan is equally spectacular as the young Adonis.  He one-hundred-percent looks the part of a young boxer on the way up (holy cow the dud is buff in this film!) but far more important is that he pulls the audience right into the heart and soul of this young man trying to find himself.  His blazing intensity and charisma lights up the screen.  And his rapport with Sylvester Stallone is very special, elevating all of their scenes together.  The relationship between these two characters is what makes the movie.

Some other thoughts:

* I’m not a boxing fan (or that much of a fan of films about boxing), but the fights in this film are amazing.  That middle fight that is captured in a single, unbroken take is a triumph of filmmaking.

* What a treat it is to see Phylicia Rashad (who played Clair Huxtable so wonderfully on The Cosby Show) back on screen!  She’s marvelous in the film.  (I wish we saw more of her!!)

* Having not seen the other Rocky sequels I don’t know if this factored into those films or not, but I loved how this film acknowledged that Rocky would be a huge celebrity in his home-town city.  That lead to some nice little moments in the film.

* Speaking of my lack of familiarity with the Rocky franchise, I am pleased that this film completely worked for me as a Rocky newbie.  There were some things that I am sure would have meant more to Rocky fans (such as the revelation of who won the secret fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed), but this film one hundred percent stands on its own.

* The ending was perfect, leaving both of the main characters exactly in the right place.

I can’t believe how much I loved this film.  I can’t believe how emotionally affected I was by it.  Bravo to Ryan Coogler and his team.  It’s always exciting to see what talented filmmakers can do when working with a mainstream franchise.  This is a film I can’t wait to see again.

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