I’ve never been a fan of the Rocky movies. The 1976 original was a good film with solid performances, but it was far too sentimental for my tastes. It also beat out three of the best films ever made (Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men) for the Best Picture Oscar trophy. The sequels I saw (the one with Mr. T and the one with Dolph Lungren) were flat out terrible with cheesy 80s editing and writing so infantile and stupid it could induce migraines. However, I’m a fan of actor Michael B. Jordan and filmmaker Ryan Coogler, who’s Fruitvale Station was one of the more impressive debut films I’ve seen. I thought if any fresh young filmmaker could breath life back into this increasingly pathetic film series, Coogler could be the one to do it. While not perfect and certainly not one of the best films of the year, Coogler succeeds in losing the over-the-top ridiculousness of the sequels while still honoring the roots of the 1976 original.
The story structure of Creed is incredibly formulaic in a Hollywood-has-tampered-with-this kind of way. Every beat of the movie is predictable and some moments are so saccharine it will make you want to grind your teeth off. However, Coogler fills this familiar structure with interesting characters and sharp dialogue, and the actors endow their characters with fine performances. Far and away the best part of Creed is the performance of Michael B. Jordan. It’s an incredibly restrained and quietly powerful performance one would never expect to find in a Rocky movie. Sylvester Stallone is better here than he has been in years, showing a vulnerability to Rocky Balboa we haven’t seen. Stallone is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and while he is solid in the role, I don’t think it’s completely deserved. I’ve seen over a dozen supporting male performances this year that are infinitely more complex than what Stallone does here. Stallone’s Rocky Balboa strikes a strong emotional cord with the audience, but I think it has more to do with how the character is written than the performance given by the actor.
Coogler’s direction is top-notch, with impressively choreographed fight sequences that create more tension and suspense than most boxing films out there. He also does a great job in capturing the city of Philadelphia and handling the actors. The story structure might be annoyingly straightforward but all the characters’ dialogue rings true. I don’t want to end my review by saying “Creed isn’t a knockout, but it holds it’s own for all twelve rounds”, but I don’t think I have a choice. Creed isn’t a knockout, but it holds it’s own for all twelve rounds. Fuck, I hate myself. Grade: B