November 27, 2015

Creed: Movie Review

While you might think of "Creed" as a spin-off to the "Rocky" franchise, the film stands on its own two feet with a solid story and great performances.

Michael B. Jordan, foreground, and Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"

"Creed" follows Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of Apollo Creed, through the trials and tribulations of boxing. At the beginning of the film, Johnson is a nobody in Los Angeles, chasing his dream of becoming a boxer. Johnson loathes the name Creed due to some daddy issues, but that doesn't stop him from heading to Philadelphia to recruit Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as his coach. Balboa is reluctant to get back in the game. After some existential realization, Balboa lends a helping hand. 

The film doesn't take its sweet time getting from place to place. Twenty minutes into the film Johnson and Balboa are already good pals. Who doesn't love Balboa's mushed face and slurred speech patterns? The pace of the film runs parallel with Jordan's explosive character. It's a great pair, but there are overlooked emotional gaps. Director Ryan Coogler trades casual get-to-know-each-other meetings for scenes where each character already knows one another. This isn't a bad thing. Johnson has a lot of people to meet within a two hour time frame. With that in mind, "Creed" is an emotional film at its roots. Boxing is just one small driving force. The story punches deeper than the skin. Johnson and Balboa each fight personal demons that reflect a 39-year franchise. 

Sylvester Stallone, left, and Michael B. Jordan in the seventh film in the "Rocky" franchise.

Dir. Coogler doesn't only create a nostalgia-fueled film, but he nearly perfects the formula. "Creed" is meta in the "Rocky" franchise, but also its own self realized film. Adrian's Restaurant, Mick's Gym, Balboa, Apollo Creed and 'vintage' boxing footage all make it into "Creed." Every time there's a reference, there is a need to cheer, weep, or smile. It's not until the final minutes of the film that a revamped version of the "Rocky" theme song starts playing and you can't help but let clap and shout. Then, there's a revamped version of the original training montage music that adds to the excitement. These moments are then contrasted with Coogler's own style of directing which consists of gorgeous, continuous shots and gritty, realist cinematography. One of the year's best shots follows Johnson and Balboa from the waiting room to the boxing ring. The camera then stays on Johnson for a good 30 seconds before cutting away to his opponent. Coogler creates shots that help the audience experience the emotions that Johnson and Balboa are going through in each frame.

All these emotions aren't only made possible by Coogler and the franchise, but also the astounding performances. Jordan is superb, as usual, working with Coogler for a second time (first being "Fruitvale Station"). The actor-director relationship is noticeably there with Jordan's energy captured perfectly in every shot. However, the big surprise comes from Stallone. It might be another meta moment, but Stallone knows that this might be the end of Balboa. Stallone pulls out all the stops, even having a couple tears here and there. 

Another major factor in helping Stallone's performance is the guilt that he feels from certain past "Rocky" film mistakes. "Creed" helps clean up the mistakes and provides a new launch pad for the franchise to explore. 

Good Qualities: Great acting, great story, emotional from start to finish.
Bad Qualities: Certain gaps in the film that would have helped explain relationships.

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