SBox Recommends: Creed (Movie Review)

NOTE: SBR never spoils. You are safe. Enjoy!

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Let’s be real. The 1976 film Rocky (aka Rocky 1) is the greatest boxing movie of all-time. There, I said it! Feel free to disagree if you want, but that’s my personal, albeit possibly biased, view. I say biased, because of where these films take place. Philadelphia is my hometown. It’s where I call home despite the fact that I’ve been away from it almost four years now.

Now in Philly, there are certain things you must love in order to properly call yourself a Philadelphian: cheese wiz, Will Smith, Bill Cosby and the Rocky movies. I personally was late to seeing the Rocky movies for the first time. I was about 11 when I was shown Rocky II-IV. I saw the first one on my own and to this day have yet to complete V, let alone start VI. Nonetheless, I love the Rocky films I’ve seen, and was even excited when I heard rumors of a possible “Rocky 7” years ago. Eventually this idea became Creed.

This is probably the most nervous I was about a film this year, even more than The Force Awakens. We’ve had lackluster Rocky movies before, so it’s incredibly possible that this could end terribly. It was a huge sigh of relief when people started saying the film was great, but I had to see it for myself. It took longer to get to it than expected, but I finally saw it a month later in a small, yet surprisingly packed, theater. All I can say now is, “Thank God!”

Synopsis

Creed is a spiritual successor, as well as seventh installment, to the Rocky series. The unknown and troubled son of former heavy-weight boxing champ Apollo Creed, Adonis abandons his white-collar life in order to become a professional boxer. To do this, he moves to Philadelphia to seek the help of his father’s close friend and occasional rival, Rocky Balboa. With Balboa as his trainer, Adonis takes on the name Creed and sets out to make his name as a boxer.

Writing

Flawless. This film’s writing is near-flawless. That’s hard to say for any film, even the greatest ones, but you have to really dig to find problems with Creed’s writing. I do have just one, but I’ll get to that later.

Let’s start by saying that this film stands on its own perfectly. Despite the legacy this film embraces and celebrates, Creed isn’t “Rocky 7” as some may improperly label it. It’s very apparent that this is just as much Creed’s story as it is Rocky’s. There’s a reason both of them are seen in posters almost side by side. This is a story of one man’s beginning and one man’s epilogue. This aspect is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

While this movie is mainly about the Creed’s rise to the top, this film is very much about the bonding and symbiosis of these two people who are in different stages of the “boxer’s life”. Both sides, the rookie and the veteran, have their own set of vulnerabilities. Together they conquer each other’s struggle, which makes for excellent chemistry. This element steals the show and is by far the defining element of this movie.

As for the core story, this movie is structurally similar to the first Rocky, with enough personality to make it distinct.  It’s similar in how the movie begins (post title screen), the placement of fight and montage scenes, and even the film’s climax. It’s almost like this film is a modern retelling of the original movie. The differences are in tone and execution.

This film channels the same emotional cues that all Rocky movie do, from dramatic weight to overwhelming hype. Though, I personally found this movie to have a darker tone than the somewhat light-natured Rocky films. I feel the optimistic outlook is less here than it was in past films, most likely due to Creed’s character. Whatever the case, it’s a good kind of different.

As I said, I have just one minor flaw with the story. Without spoiling it, there’s a point of conflict in the second act that builds up to a point and then just vanishes. It wasn’t particularly distracting, but it would’ve been nice if that was explored just a bit more. In any case, it does give way to the film’s main conflict which is much more interesting anyway.

Cinematography

Let’s talk camerawork and editing. Usually I don’t discuss these in detail unless it’s extraordinarily bad, but here’s an exception. This film looks amazing.

I’ll call these people by name. This film was directed by Ryan Coogler and edited by Claudio Castello and Michael P. Shawver, with Maryse Alberti as cinematographer. I don’t know who any of these people are, but I’m now a fan of all of them. Together they made this movie a visual spectacle.

First let’s point out how they captured the look of Philadelphia. It’s spot-on and authentic to the point where you feel like you’re walking the streets yourself. I actually started feeling nostalgic just seeing Adonis visit parts of Philly I once walked through.

While this film has no CGI, there are excellent visual effects and well-executed edits which can be seen as impressive. Let’s start with the montage scenes. The Rocky movies are iconic for their montage sequences. Anyone who tried to film a montage scene even on YouTube or Vine knows it takes someone special to make it great, let alone three like this movie has. Yet all of these montages are fresh, exciting and fun to watch, even when Creed is punching the same punching bag again and again.

And then there are the boxing scenes, which is where this movie shines. There are three major fights in the whole movie, give or take one. In all cases, the action is easy to see and follows the characters well. When the match has editing, the cuts are always smooth and natural with slow motion used sparingly. Notice how I say “when”, though. That’s because there’s one match done in just one take. This is the most impressive and awesome fight in the whole film, and possibly the greatest scene.

Characters/Acting

Michael B. Jordan is officially redeemed from Fantastic Four. That’s because he is fantastic as Adonis Creed. He can definitely carry a movie well and works off his supporting characters and environment great. The character is shown to have had a troubled upbringing until he’s given a second chance by, of all people, the stepmother he never knew. He’s offered the conventional life, but rejects it to pursue the career of his father. The career, but not the legacy. He sets out to make his own name, determined to step out of the shadow his father left behind.

What Jordan brings to this character is a sense of determination, confidence and vulnerability. He defends his career path like a college student defends their questionable major. He’s someone who considered all the downsides of their choice, but goes through with it anyway. And it’s not blind drive either. His motivation (which I won’t spoil) is understandable. And it’s that determination that makes him interesting, and his response to tragedy that makes him likable.

All these things show in his interactions with the other characters, namely Rocky Balboa. A lot of people are saying it, but it’s true. “Academy Award Winner, Sylvester Stallone” must happen. It’s so great how Stallone grew his signature character across nearly four decades. This rendition of Rocky is still that lovable guy we all know and love, but in a different place.

This Rocky has reached a point in his life where everything and everyone he cared about has either moved on or died around him. He can’t fight anymore, his fame is gone, and he’s virtually alone. You’d think these events would’ve make him bitter, but it hasn’t. He maintains that positive attitude and sense of humor, living his life with contentment and taking things day-by-day. Nevertheless he needs someone in his life. He’s not eager to help Creed, but agrees either because he finally realizes he’s no longer content or out of guilt still leftover from Apollo’s death.

Stallone portrays this aged Rocky incredibly. It’s a very emotional performance that will bring anyone to tears and make you root for him all over again.

There are no other returning characters from the previous films- or at least no returning actors. Apollo’s wife is here, played this time by Phylicia Rashad. She does great for the few scenes she’s in, bringing lots of personality that didn’t exist in previous films.

We do have new characters, though. Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca, (Tessa Thompson), was a very compelling character with a tragic story. She’s pretty headstrong and easy to get behind. We also have our main villain Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). He’s pretty fleshed out and grounded for a Rocky villain. Of course you’re never gonna have a outrageous villain like Drago or Clubber Lang nowadays, but he plays a pretty decent prick.

Music

Trying to live up to a score as iconic as Rocky’s is no easy feat, but they did it. This film doesn’t go the easy route of recycling the original soundtrack or remixing it. Instead this score is built from the ground up while using Rocky as inspiration.

There are plenty of homages to the iconic Rocky sound throughout, but none of the original tracks return. This film opts for a different musical theme with elements of hip-hop and electronic on top of epic orchestral. It’s tone is much more somber than in previous films, but also a bit more empowering.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Is “Gonna Fly Now” in the movie? Yes and no. I won’t spoil it’s presence in the film, but let’s just say, it appears at the right time in the right way.

Overall

This may be the best film I’ve seen all year. What could’ve been just another Rocky movie turned out to be a surprisingly refreshing modern boxing movie with everything we loved from the Rocky series in it. This isn’t “Rocky 7”; it’s “Creed 1”. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series. This is a must-see, a masterpiece, and overall a great movie.

Score: 9.9/10

Recommendations

This film is for… well, everyone. It’s ideal mainly for fans of boxing movies or at least one of the Rocky movies. That being said, you don’t need to follow Rocky to follow Creed. If you’re seeing this movie for the action alone, know that this isn’t an action-packed film. The only people who may not take to this movie are people who hate Rocky or very young kids. I’d say nine and older is a safe age for this kind of film. Even if you don’t like Rocky, it’s different enough to warrant a try.

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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