Creed is a worthy (if almost too respectful) addition to the canon of Rocky movies.
The basic pitch by writer-director Ryan Coogler (who has the name of a white quarterback, but is black) was that his star from Fruitvale Station, Michael B. Jordan, should play Adonis Creed, a heretofore unknown son of Rocky Balboa’s Muhammad Ali-like archrival and friend Apollo Creed (who died in the ring fighting the scientific Soviet champion Ivan Drago in Rocky IV). The youngster would talk the retired pugilist into being the Burgess Meredith-like trainer for his boxing career.
Within the sentimental looniness of the Rocky Universe, that’s obviously a terrific idea. It’s hard not to wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself.
Creed’s execution of the concept is a little on the nose, but it will have Rocky fans sniffling for the last ten minutes.
Sylvester Stallone is magnetic in the supporting role as old Rocky. The movie lights up every time Sly comes on screen.
And the boxing scenes are less unrealistic than in most of the earlier Rocky movies, in which Stallone’s chief defensive tactic was to block punches with his chin.
On the downside, I found Jordan’s leading man performance competent but a little opaque and colorless as Adonis Creed, or as the character prefers to be known due to his aversion to the spotlight, Donnie Johnson.
Coogler’s screenplay is more earnest than Stallone’s old Rocky scripts, which were usually — in part — clever, good-natured satires on the excesses of modern sports culture. Over time, as the sequels became more outlandish, they became more self-parodic. But there’s little self-satire in Creed.
Coogler’s conception is that Rocky is a great movie that deserves to taken seriously, which is of course correct. On the other hand, Stallone’s screenplays were always a volatile mix of his awareness that many people see him as a dullard because he can’t talk fast, while on the other hand he sees himself as a genius because he wrote the most influential screenplay since Casablanca.
It would have been interesting if Adonis Creed had articulated the burden of not having as much personality as his father, who had been the most famous man in the world. There’s plenty of time in this talky movie to get around to that subject, but it never seems to come up. (I suspect that being a different person than the most famous man in the world is probably a subject that actor Michael B. Jordan could put some heartfelt emotion into, having grown up with the same name as Muhammad Ali’s successor as the world’s #1 celebrity.)
Creed isn’t as funny as most of the Rocky movies. As a screenwriter, Stallone’s ability to be both wildly emotional and wryly bemused by the outlandishness of it all in the same movie was an unlikely combination. But it made for a lot of entertaining movies, such as Rocky III, which introduced the public to both Mr. T as the proto-Mike Tyson Clubber Lang and Hulk Hogan as the proto-Hulk Hogan.
In contrast, in Creed the nemesis is a tall, skilled Irish fighter from the docks of Liverpool, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan. He’s played by a genuine boxer, 6’3″ Tony Bellew, who is pretty decent with his lines on the occasions when you can understand what he’s saying.
On the other hand, “Pretty” Rick Conlan is a ho-hum name for an adversary compared to the names Stallone came up with for Rocky’s rivals, like Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago.
I mean, consider what actually happened last weekend in heavyweight boxing: the long-reigning Ivan Drago-like champ Wladimir Klitschko was dethroned by a 6′-9″ Irish Traveler named Tyson Fury, a name that not even Stallone would have dared dream up.
But those are quibbles. Creed is a good movie.