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Creed – Joint Review

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 5 November 2015 [USA]
 
Director: Ryan Coogler
 
Writer: Ryan Coogler - Aaron Covington [Screenplay] - Sylvester Stallone [Characters]
 
Cast: Michael B. Jordan - Sylvester Stallone - Tessa Thompson
 


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Posted December 28, 2015 by

 
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Creed – Joint Review

Larry’s Perspective:

Star Wars is not the only six-part franchise to get a reboot from an outsider. Step forward Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler who re-teamed with star Michael B. Jordan for Creed, a spin-off from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky boxing sextet.

Back in the mid 1970s, Stallone, a budding screenwriter as well as jobbing actor, wrote the screenplay for the original true underdog story. Rocky told the story of a young man who could have been just muscle for the mob but was moulded into fighting form by aged trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith, best known as the Penguin from the Batman TV series). Rocky took on legendary heavyweight Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, subsequently known from movies such as Action Jackson and Predator) in the ring and – spoiler alert – lost. But he won the affection of the crowds as well as quiet girl, Adrian (Talia Shire, best known from The Godfather and being Jason Schwartzman’s mom). A rematch took place in the sequel, Rocky II (1979). By the time we get to Rocky III (1982), Creed is in Rocky’s corner as he took on loudmouth Clubber Lang (Mr T). Then in Rocky IV (1985), otherwise known as the campy one sampled in Family Guy, Creed was killed in the ring by the Russian fighter Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and Rocky made his contribution to Perestroika as he travelled to Russia.

Big things happen in Rocky movies. Characters die as Rocky is pushed into a corner where the only logical response is to fight. The final boxing match is the resolution to every internal conflict and represents a validation of the protagonist – except, alas, in the last two Rocky movies (1990 and 2006).

For a while Stallone was the biggest action star in Hollywood – the continued success of his Rocky movies and Rambo: First Blood Part II (not the original) – cemented his bankability. But although he could – and did – re-write scripts, Stallone did not make the best choices. He became the least likely director to make Staying Alive (1983), the sequel to Saturday Night Fever – though John Travolta has never appeared so ripped. He teamed up with Dolly Parton in the ill-fated country and western comedy, Rhinestone (1984). He made movies that don’t even turn up on late night TV at three in the morning, like Over the Top (1987) in which he played an arm wrestling trucker. All the while, he wanted – improbably – to make a film about Edgar Allan Poe, the only resemblance to whom was his baggy eyes.

Back to Coogler’s Creed: you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. I’m talking time lines. Apollo Creed died in the ring in 1985. So that makes his illegitimate son, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) 29, when he first gets a professional fight – if you discount the bouts in Mexico, one of which we see in an early scene. Jordan, born in 1987, is around the right age for his character but most successful boxers who enter the professional arena in their early 20s. Even if we buy into the film’s opening, that Adonis, first seen in a juvenile home, fought all his young life without knowing who his father was, it is a stretch. Still, films are all about the fantasy.

Adonis has a Fresh Prince of Bel Air rescue into wealth, in which Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) adopts him as the son her husband had with another woman. Adonis is raised in a mansion and gets a desk job, but fights south of the border on the side. Given a promotion, he decides to quit and cast aside privilege to seek out Rocky Balboa’s old gym.

Now, as a cinemagoer, that’s where I want him to go. But surely, he would look for Creed’s old trainer. After all, that gym produced a heavyweight champion, though Adonis fights in a different division. He’s a middleweight (170-185 lbs). Personally, I like the straw-weight (up to 115 lbs) – intellectuals hitting each other with paperback copies of Kirkegaard. After Mickey’s Gym refuses to offer personal attention, Adonis, ‘Donnie’, seeks out Rocky (Stallone) himself.

When Han Solo turns up in The Force Awakens, it’s a surprise. When Rocky turns up in Creed, the wow factor is missing. Still, Stallone gives his most relaxed and convincing performance in years as a man who hasn’t remarried or kept his wealth nor has let himself get fat like Jake La Motta or used his celebrity to endorse kitchen appliances. (I’m still waiting for the ‘Rocky Balboa soft fruit squisher’ – makes the best of rotten tomatoes.) He runs a restaurant – not that we see people eating there – and has connections all over the city of Philadelphia. One wonders why he didn’t start up a youth centre or become a politician.

Still, after giving Donnie a fitness regime, Rocky starts training him in earnest. It is only a matter of time before Donnie gets his first ‘official’ fight against Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler (Andre Ward) one of the most unbeaten prospects at Mickey’s Gym.

The mid-movie bout is easily the most thrilling sequence in the movie, which Coogler films in its entirety in a single take – and, ladies and gentlemen, there is more than one round. Least thrilling is the sub-plot in which Donnie romances his downstairs neighbour, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) a singer-DJ-music promoter, who has failing hearing.

There is a late movie plot twist that I’m not minded to spoil. Suffice to say, Donnie battles with and for his trainer, his girlfriend and his legitimacy. I want to tell you that this is enough. Except that it isn’t! Fighters are acclaimed for overcoming socio-economic adversity. Donnie had none of that. They are acclaimed for their skill. Donnie doesn’t quite have that. They are acclaimed for their heart – going the distance. In the final bout, Donnie’s mettle against the Liverpudlian ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (real-life boxer Tony Bellew) is well and truly tested, but I didn’t quite believe it. We are never convinced that Donnie is a do-or-die kind of fighter, who is in the ring because it is the only thing he can do. It isn’t. So the final fight feels artificial. It is not an act of (near) naked self-expression.

That said, Jordan genuinely looks the part and he nails the character as written. Nevertheless his performance isn’t a star-making one, because we’re not really taken into his mind. Outside the ring, the film is at its best when Rocky refuses to be a father figure for Donnie, rejecting him. You feel Donnie’s anger at losing the only tangible father figure he ever had and why he flips out. But this difficulty is something the film cannot resolve; the final fight doesn’t have something to say about people who are raised by one surrogate parent and mentored by another.

Stallone’s Rocky and Rambo were representatives of the Republican right. Donnie is the product of a Democrat mindset, that is, an acceptance that if kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are put in good schools and given encouragement, they can succeed. The reason Creed feels unresolved at the end is in part related to the racial politics it portrays. African American kids from broken homes in poor neighbourhoods don’t generally get the best education to compensate for the lack of a father figure. When they do, they don’t want to land punches against the under-class. The problem with Creed is its confusion about what the ‘fight’ is and what victory looks like. It is not like the original Rocky.

Written by:

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 15.56.21

Larry Oliver
@LarryOliverFilm
Full Contributor

 

Michael’s Perspective:

Young Adonis Johnson is taken out from juvy by a woman he’s never met; Mary Anne Creed, widow to the late, great boxing champion Apollo Creed. Adonis turns out to be Apollo’s child from a hushed affair. Regardless, Mary Anne becomes Adonis’ guardian.

Now a young man, the comfortable life ain’t for Adonis. He participates in prize fights on work nights and obsesses over his father’s greatest moments. Adonis quits his promising job and, despite Mary Anne’s protests, moves to Philadelphia to track down another old legend from his father’s past.

Minor Spoilers Ahoy

At first glance Adonis can seem spoilt but his lifestyle in the movie’s beginning does not last. There’s something to be admired about his venturing to earn his own rewards. He’s certainly got talent and yet is bereft of humility, made clear by an early humiliating defeat. Jordan is great at making Adonis likable. He’s confident with a great sense of humour. He’s also got an enormous chip on his shoulder (its name being Apollo). The physical side of the performance is just as impressive as the character. Part of that is down to Adonis’ mentor, the true heart of the movie.

Rocky Balboa is a character with forty years of lore, ever present in Stallone’s performance. He is a patient and gentle giant of a character, brimming with simple yet rich wisdom. Several scenes of Stallone’s punch right to the tear ducts. One particular touching scene has Balboa routinely visit the graveyard to read the paper, bringing roses (for Adrian) and whisky (for Paulie).   Watching the gradual yet certain breakdown of the legend is poignant and arresting. Adonis ain’t the only one fighting. Despite the movie’s name, it’s Rocky and Stallone at their best.

Kudos also to Tessa Thompson as the intriguing Bianca, Adonis’ neighbour and later someone more intimate. Bianca is an up-and-coming musician, making waves on the local scene and headed for bigger waters. He drive is understandable when she reveals she has progressive hearing loss. It’s pleasing to see a love interest have goals and a life of their own before the significant other arrived.

A terrific job done in stirring up the nostalgia. It’s hard not to feel the spectre of Apollo at times, he’s respectfully teased at through classic clips and B&W photos. Ludwig Göransson’s score goes big, bombastic and would feel out of place in any other boxing series. Paired with the rousing music is the other Rocky movie essential, the training montage. Sylvester charms to no end, comfortable in Micky Goldmill’s shoes as trainer, happy to watch somebody else chase that damn chicken.

The fight scenes are terrifically shot, easily outclassing the incomprehensible bouts from last year’s Southpaw. One midway fight manages to cram two rounds into a single take and it’s exhilarating. While the choreography might not be totally realistic, it’s totally entertaining. For being only Ryan Coogler’s second feature film, his sophomore is a heavyweight.

Creed is thrilling, in a cheesy, over the top way. This wonderful tribute to boxing’s champion franchise ends with a scene that could be the end of something beautiful and the start of something promising. While being a character piece first and a boxing movie second, Creed triumphs at both.

Written by:

10990897_947809968572240_8068008592644517359_n

Michael Keyes
Silences Band
@mkjk1990
Full Contributor

 

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