Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: CREED.
JOHN: If you thought we'd seen the last of Rocky after Sylvester Stallone redeemed the series and ended it on a high note with 2006's Rocky Balboa, you wouldn't be crazy for thinking that. But, here we are, nine years later, and co-writer/director Ryan Coogler has not only reinvigorated the Rocky franchise, but ignited his already hot directing career with a film that ranks right up there with the original. By focusing on Apollo Creed's illegitimate son (played by Michael B. Jordan), and pairing him with Stallone's Rocky (as trainer), Coogler mines well-established characters and story beats to find fresh drama and emotional fireworks, which could easily sustain a whole new series of films. One needn't have seen the other Rocky films to appreciate Creed, but it certainly doesn't hurt. The question of whether Creed is any good is any easy one to answer. Hell yes. Is Creed one of the best movies of the year? Again, yes. Do we have a new dark horse favorite at the Oscars? It will certainly be interesting. Jordan definitely deserves consideration in the lead actor category, and Stallone may have just emerged as a new front-runner for supporting actor. I think this movie is one that will please a lot of people. Most people. Are you one of them?
JULIE: Yes, I am. I'm not a student of the original Rocky films. I've seen some of them. I don't remember much about any of them. I remember really liking Rocky Balboa. (How has it been nine years already since that movie came out?) I love the camp of Rocky IV. Interestingly, this movie seems most concerned with the events of those two movies (and the original Rocky), but I agree that you don't need to have seen them to appreciate Creed.
This movie succeeds mostly on the charms of its actors. Michael B. Jordan, who has amassed an impressive resume in his twenty-eight years, is a star on the rise. He has charisma and acting chops. His performance is understated and emotional. He deserves to be part of the Oscar conversation this year. Sylvester Stallone brings such heart and pain to his performance. He is Rocky here. This is a full-body performance. And, though her character's story didn't end up amounting to much, Tessa Thompson is great as Adonis's girlfriend.
Despite some issues with plot/motivation, I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't get squeamish at the sight of an eye swollen to the size of a cantaloupe.
JOHN: Yeah, the swollen eye was pretty rough to look at. I think the movie succeeds in more ways than just its actors though. Can we talk about Coogler for a second? He was a huge sensation on the indie film circuit a few years ago with Fruitvale Station (which also starred Jordan), a sobering true story about senseless violence and the lives it claims. Of all the movies I would have expected him to tackle next, Creed was never in the picture. But, Coogler clearly has passion, respect, and an innate understanding of this material. He's made something that is a Rocky movie through and through, but also something deeply personal. He puts his own stamp on the movie, from the casting of key roles to the movement of his camera inside the boxing ring. We've seen a ton of boxing movies over the years, and it would be very easy to just repeat what others have done, but Coogler finds new and exciting ways to film a boxing match.
I love the music score too. Bill Conti's music from Rocky is iconic, but composer Ludwig Goransson does a nifty job of updating and refashioning the themes - it kind of sounds like Rocky, but it's not. And, when "Gonna Fly Now" does come on the soundtrack, it's a huge crowd-pleasing moment.
We've chatted a bit about plot/motivation after the movie. I didn't have any problems with it. I got who Adonis was, what he had gone through to get to where he was, and what motivated him to keep going. Coogler keeps the viewer in the dark for most of the movie about most of that though, and teases out the info in small doses. Maybe it was just too little too late at that point for you?
All I know for sure right now is that I want to see this movie again, and I want sequels, like, immediately. Jordan deserves major stardom, and I think this is finally the project to give it to him. This past summer's Fantastic Four certainly did him no favors. It will be interesting to see if the Creed series can avoid all the ridiculousness that plagued some of the later Rocky sequels. It will also be interesting to see if Coogler comes back. The movie is doing well, so Coogler can basically write his own ticket at this point. Will he even want to make more? I think his vision on this one was key, so he's an important asset.
JULIE: Speaking of Coogler's vision, it's worth noting that this is a black movie. Other than Rocky and the British guy Adonis ("Don") fights at the end, every main character here is black. Don's background informs his character, but race is never really an issue here. These are fully realized fictional people filling out a fully realized fictional world. I love all of the relationships here. The one between Rocky and Don is extremely touching. Don's romance with Bianca is sweet and hot.
Which brings me to the motivation question and the relationship that left me wanting more. In the first scene, Don is rescued from juvenile hall by his dad's wife, played by Phylicia Rashad. She takes him in, raises him, sends him to college, all of that. We see him fighting in the first scene and we see him fighting in Mexico in the next (and then quitting his job and moving to Philly). We never see him choose boxing. We never see him struggle (early on) with the legacy of his dad. The big moment in the movie where he tells us what he's really after (to know he wasn't a mistake) doesn't come until way later. I just wish Adonis had been fleshed out a little earlier. I feel like I didn't "get" him until it was almost too late. (Also, it should've been Mrs. Creed at his door in the hotel.)
But I still really liked the movie. On the Hunger Games scale, I give it a solid Finnick Odair.
JOHN: Well, I disagree with you about never seeing him struggle. I think it's there from the start, and I got it, but to each their own. I'm just glad you liked the movie. I really liked it. This one will make my top 10 this year for sure. I just re-watched all the Rocky films in the lead-up to seeing this, and I'm happy to provide an official ranking. I want to say Creed was my favorite, but I don't think you have Creed without the first Rocky, so gotta pay respect where it's due. Having said that, I'll go: Rocky, Creed, Balboa, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky II, Rocky V. Go see this one, folks. It's a winner.
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