Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking blog are pleased to present its He Said/She Said review of CREED.
I need to make a few disclosures before I start my review. First, Rocky is my all-time favorite movie. Second, I am a boxing fan and remember as a kid watching the Ali-Wepner fight where a total underdog boxer, Chuck Wepner, was given a shot at the title. That was the inspiration for Stallone’s character. Third, my mother was Italian, so I am half Italian. Why is that disclosure important? I never met an Italian, male or female, whose list of top films of all time did NOT include Rocky and The Godfather.
Although I am an admitted Rocky groupie, I was not thrilled with all of the films (maybe it’s because I’m only half Italian). I thought Rocky II was almost as good as Rocky. Rocky III was good mainly because of Mr. T. Rocky IV passed because of Dolph Lundgren. Rocky V was lame; the weakest in the franchise. I was upset that it was the last one. But Stallone came back and injected new life into the series with a sixth, Rocky Balboa – a back-to-the-roots effort using many of the actors from the original (albeit a lot older) and Director John G. Avidson who won the Academy Award for directing Rocky.
Now comes Creed. Why won’t they let a good thing go? I grew up with Rocky (sort of). He was my hero, my idol, my inspiration. Rocky Balboa ended everything on a good note. As my mother used to say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
And then I saw it.
I loved it. Without spoiling anything, it’s the same exact story as Rocky. All they did was switch one five letter name (Rocky) with another (Creed). But it’s an updated, turbo-charged version down to the complete overhaul and adaptation of Rocky’s theme song. Michael B. Jordan kills as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo (Carl Weathers). Although Mr. Jordan came from a heavily-laden television background, his break-through leading role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station of the film-festival circuit, impressed his director, Ryan Coogler, sufficiently enough to cast him as the lead in Creed. Adonis’s love interest, Bianca is played to perfection by the exotic Tessa Thompson. Her bio says she is of African-American, Mexican, Caucasian, and Central American descent. Like Rocky’s Adrian, Bianca has an alternating mix of vulnerability and toughness which complements Adonis’s gaps
And there is Sylvester (Sly) Stallone. He slips into the Rocky character like a well-worn glove. Although sometimes maligned and underrated as an actor, we must remember that he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Rocky. Had not Peter Finch died before the Oscars that year (and thus was the sentimental favorite) Stallone could very easily have won. And let’s not forget that be built three of the most lucrative franchises in Hollywood: Rocky, Rambo and the recent The Expendables. Sly gives a stellar performance in Creed.
Ryan Coogler did a masterful job of writing and directing. Creed is this generation’s Rocky. What do I think about a Creed 2? Bada-bing! Yo, Adrian, I just want to know I can go the distance – or, in other words, let’s wait and see.
Rocky Balboa returns after a nine year hiatus; but this time he’s not the one going the rounds, or at least he’s not the one wearing the gloves. This time he’s fighting from the corner of the ring, both for his “nephew” who aspires to champion status (former and deceased competitor Apollo Creed’s son), as well as for himself and his own personal struggles.
From the get-go I will say I’m not a huge sports fan – not like my family, who’ve shown such die-hard and devoted fandom, that recently they elected to sit in snowy, 17-degree temps in Denver for a Broncos/Patriots game. But as a mom, I’ve cheered on my own kids in soccer, field hockey, skating, ballet, gymnastics, and at track meets – although, that’s only because I support my children. Nevertheless, the idea of watching pro sports in real life or in a motion picture doesn’t excite me; and I also am not a proponent of physical aggression so when it comes to boxing, watching someone get beaten to a pulp makes me literally feel ill.
But as a kid I remember boxing well; I can recall that names like the great Muhammad Ali (even though his major career highlights were before my time), as well as others such as Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes were tossed around my household. My father also did a bit of boxing in his day and I saw many a professional boxing match on the family TV. So when the Rocky films came out, Dad was a fan and I saw them, too; we even had a father/daughter date to see Rocky III. Despite the fact that I actually enjoyed them, every time someone proposes any sports-themed movie, my initial knee-jerk reaction is no. But rarely have I ever seen one where I didn’t like ultimately like it – and that’s because they are never just sports stories; they are about the athletes – people – and their stories. And for Creed, this surely was the case.
When it comes to movies, I love to feel – as a person I am all about psychology, life, relationships…and while Creed is a story born out of nearly four decades of fiction – sports-themed fiction – it unfolded in a way that hooked me from the opening scene. The tale of the troubled boy who eventually finds his way…young, tough, unloved Adonis Creed played by Alex Henderson morphs into a smart, successful twenty-something Donnie Johnson (a.k.a. Adonis) played by Michael B. Jordan who yearns for something more – to be a professional boxer. But he has integrity; and he doesn’t want to sell out by using his father’s name. It has parallels to the 1976 Rocky Balboa’s own transformation from nothing (a struggling, uneducated debt collector/fighter) into a star of the boxing world. It tugs at the heartstrings as it goes beyond the ring into the relationships which impact Donnie’s life; relationships both old and new (as well as non-existent – Donnie’s father, the famed Apollo Creed died before his birth).
Donnie’s adoptive mother, Mary Anne Creed, played compellingly by Phylicia Rashad, is responsible for the early shift in young Donnie’s trajectory from punk adolescent to productive adult; she also is at the root of much of his angst as he moves out of the nest and across the country to Philadelphia, PA to pursue his dreams. Donnie’s love interest and neighbor, Bianca, played by the striking and talented Tessa Thompson, is his intellectual match; she is self-driven but bears her own personal struggles.
But there would be no Creed if it weren’t for the inimitable Sylvester Stallone, returning as the one and only Rocky Balboa. And Stallone still has it. The film, written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, stayed true to the character which was very gratifying to see. And not only is he still “Rocky” but despite his age, Stallone can still punch a bag.
The film reminisced about Apollo Creed, Stallone’s deceased wife Adrian, and her brother Paulie – main characters from the previous films. The Philadelphia sights and Donnie’s training with Rocky harkened back to the early Rocky films and it just felt good. Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” – classic Rocky – brought memories flooding back. There were countless moments throughout the film when I teared up.
There also were numerous scenes when I writhed in my seat and had to look away. The punches, the blood, the punches, the bruises, the punches, the swollen faces – (did I say punches?) not my favorite parts, but what would a boxing movie be without it all? Okay, so I’ll stop complaining.
The film is uplifting, although has its predictable and sappy moments as any underdog film will; but I’m a sucker for a Hollywood ending. The message is of course to pursue your dreams – to listen to the voice inside of you – and as Rocky instructed Donnie, “One step, one punch, one round at a time.”
For the younger generation (or non-Rocky fans) there is enough there for it not to have been absolutely necessary to have seen the previous film series. Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone are a powerful triumvirate. It’s a tale told well and may even leave you humming the Rocky theme for days after.