Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Film review: "Creed"
“Creed” is a self-conscious attempt to bring closure to the Rocky Balboa saga, by depicting the aged boxer passing on the torch to another underdog. It’s a classic story of beginnings and endings, fathers and sons, starting a new chapter and closing an old one.
It’s well-made, stirring, and would make for a fitting summation to a 40-year journey.
(Though as long as Sylvester Stallone, who’ll be 70 next year, is capable of shambling in front of the camera and mouthing that iconic stumblebum patois, don’t bet on this being the last “Rocky” movie.)
Just how important is Rocky to us? He’s probably the most famous sports figure who isn’t actually real. Check that; in many ways, you could argue he is real. Certainly his influence is – on movies, the sport of boxing and the city of Philadelphia.
There’s a scene in “Creed” where people are shown having their pictures taken in front of a statue of Rocky Balboa at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – the place where he famously ascended those steps in the first movie. It’s supposed to demonstrate how Rocky, now long out of the boxing game and quietly running a little restaurant named Adrian’s, became a legend.
But that’s an actual statue in front of the actual museum, put there as part of a scene from “Rocky III” -- demonstrating that myths can turn into reality, and vice-versa.
The film stars Michael B. Jordan, one of the finest young actors working in film today. Director Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the script with Aaron Covington, also directed Jordan in the powerful “Fruitvale Station.” Tonally the two films are somewhat similar, in that Jordan’s character is a wayward soul trying to improve himself, only to be pushed down by an uncaring and capricious system.
Adonis Johnson is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s opponent from the first two movies who eventually became his closest friend. He died in the ring before Adonis was born, who grew up angry in the child welfare system before being taken in my Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad.)
“Donny” was raised in comfort and security – unlike Rocky, the Creeds kept their boxing dough – but has a Drago-sized chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t feel like he belongs to anyone, is both proud and ashamed of his heritage. He fights low-end professional bouts in Mexico while working a day job in the financial sector.
After running his mouth and being humiliated in the ring by a legitimate boxer, Adonis decides to strive for his dream and make it on his own as a fighter, without using dad’s name as a stepping stone. He moves to a cruddy apartment in Philly, and enlists Rocky to train him. Donny calls him “Unc” and regards Balboa as family, though Rocky is reluctant to reenter the world where he’s lost so much.
Stallone is regretful and poignant, playing a man who doesn’t really have much to live for, but presses on because he doesn’t know how to quit. In Adonis he sees a chance to nurture, to hone and to protect – i.e., to be a father again.
Of course, because this is a Rocky movie it ends with a fight for the championship. How exactly one goes from novice to contender is left deliberately murky. A romance with the cool downstairs girl (Tessa Thompson) has an obligatory feel – why must there always be a love interest?
The bad guy is Ricky “Pretty Boy” Conlan, played by real-life fighter Tony Bellew. He’s a Cockney brawler looking for a quick payday owing to pressing circumstances, and he and his manager (Graham McTavish) see using the Creed name as a way to drum up exposure. Rocky sees what’s happening, doesn’t like it, but gives Donny the space to make his own decisions – while having to make some hard choices of his own.
“Creed” isn’t up there with the first four Rocky movies. But it summons their spirit, and adds a few grace notes of its own. “Rocky” was the story of a guy who fought because he had nothing else; this is the tale of a man with choices who traces in his father’s footsteps in order to become his own man.
Just as it was in 1976, there are different forms of victory.