By James Hancock November 26th, 2015
I have no idea how many times I watched Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985) as a kid, but if you were tell me that I saw both movies one hundred times each, it would not surprise me in the least. For reasons that I can’t properly explain, the character of Rocky Balboa and his rivalry and eventual friendship with Apollo Creed were the stuff of legend in my household. Nobody in my family watched boxing on a regular basis, but from the way we discussed the first four Rocky movies, you would think the careers of Rocky and Apollo were right up there with Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. The death of Apollo in Rocky IV was like watching the death of a family member, one that we relived over and over again just to be able to see Rocky go back to basics training in Siberia in order to avenge his closest friend. I did not find out until many years later that Sylvester Stallone had written the entire franchise and directed II, III & IV himself. To this day Sly does not receive nearly the credit he deserves for having authored one of the great American sports stories, one that has moved millions of devoted fans to tears. Rocky V (1990) and Rocky Balboa (2006) don’t really do anything for me as a moviegoer and I have no idea if the original quartet of films would affect me the same way if I were to discover for the first time today, but as a kid in the 1980s Rocky was a series as beloved as James Bond, Star Wars, Indiana Jones or any other that one cares to mention from that period. So when I saw the first teaser trailer to Creed a few months ago and realized about halfway through that we were seeing a continuation of this epic saga, I knew that on opening day there was no place I’d rather be than sitting in a theater seeing if Apollo’s son Adonis would live up to his father’s legacy. Without going into spoilers , I’m happy to report that the movie works. Far better than Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, but not on the level of Rocky III and Rocky IV, Creed very successfully gives the series a much-needed soft reboot that will hopefully keep this story going for years to come allowing a new generation of fans to fall in love with these characters all over again.
So the big question for every Rocky fan is to what degree Michael B. Jordan measures up to what Carl Weathers accomplished in the first four Rocky movies. For me, Carl Weathers’ high water mark was working as Rocky’s trainer in the third movie, helping Rocky rediscover his motivation after having gone soft from too many years on top. I’ve been waiting for years to see if Michael B. Jordan would live up to the promise he showed on the television shows The Wire and Friday Night Lights. I thought he was excellent in Chronicle (2012) but Fantastic Four was a total embarrassment and threatened to derail his career. I’m not quite ready to declare Michael B. Jordan the new Carl Weathers, but I am more than happy to watch a few more films fleshing out the character of Adonis Creed. Physically he is more than ready for the role. Jordan got completely shredded in preparation to play Creed and very convincingly takes on the challenge of the boxing scenes choreographed for this movie. Better still is Jordan’s chemistry with Sly Stallone. Within minutes of the two actors sharing their first scene, I totally bought their relationship and was genuinely moved by their trials and tribulations as trainer and fighter and over time, surrogate family, as Adonis struggles to escape his father’s shadow and build his own career.
This was my first exposure to the work of director Ryan Coogler but I will likely be giving his previous film Fruitvale Station (2013) a look in the near future. I was most impressed by the way he stages the fight scenes in Creed. About halfway through the movie, Adonis has his first major fight where Coogler’s camera effortlessly hovers over the shoulders of the fighters throughout the match allowing the audience a genuinely immersive experience where one really feels the impact of every punch as it lands and the exhilaration of slipping out of reach or ducking under a punch as it is thrown. My one major grievance with the movie is the screenplay and the many lengthy periods of downtime in the film. This movie did not need to be 133 minutes and there are plenty of scenes where I was feeling the length. That said, when the movie gets up to the speed, it is a very satisfying experience. I saw the movie with a lot of my family members and after the screening we were debating how it compares with the previous six movies. My dad and stepmom agreed with my assessment that it does not quite hit the highs of pure melodrama we love in the first four movies. But my thirteen year old brother leaped to the defense of Creed while my ten year old brother spent a good hour shadowboxing and running sprints. So what do I know? Maybe Creed is far better than I’m willing to admit. Creed by no means does any harm to the franchise and like I said earlier, I hope to see more of Adonis Creed in the future. I know of no other movie franchise where only a few notes of music from the soundtrack gives people the motivation to perform one-armed push-ups or run through brick walls. Working out to ‘Gonna Fly Now’, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or ‘Heart’s on Fire’ makes a Rocky fan feel unbeatable. Nearly forty years into these movies, I still have nothing but love for these characters. So if you grew up on these movies, you’ve probably already seen the flick so you need no encouragement from me. But if you’re part of a fresh generation of moviegoers, I urge you to give Creed a look and then go back to the roots of the series. There is something undeniably aspirational about this saga and for all our sakes I hope the legend of Rocky Balboa and the Creeds will loom large for many years to come.
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