Looking Back at 2010s Films: Creed (2015)

5 Oct

creed

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, here are my brief thoughts on the “Rocky” franchise: the first “Rocky” is great, the sequel’s terrific, “Rocky III” has its moments, “Rocky IV” is too goofy for me to dislike, “Rocky V” is meh, and the sixth film, “Rocky Balboa,” is fine. But just because the sixth film was about getting older and partaking in one last act, that didn’t mean the story was over. Hence, “Creed!”

Years since Rocky Balboa (of course played by Sylvester Stallone) had his last fight in the ring, he lives a life of mostly solitude. He runs his own restaurant (Adrian’s, named after you-know-who), he visits the graves of both his wife and his friend Paulie regularly, his son has his own life now, and his health is deteriorating. His glory days are far behind him, and he knows it.

Into his life comes Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), who is the son of an extramarital lover of Apollo Creed. Creed, if you recall, was the former heavyweight champion before Rocky took the belt, and he was killed in the ring in “Rocky IV.” Donnie has been adopted by Apollo’s widow and dreams of becoming a pro boxer just like his father. So, he leaves Los Angeles and travels to Philadelphia to be trained by Rocky, who reluctantly agrees.

Side-note: When I first saw the film, I was glad to finally know who won the last fight between Rocky and Apollo (“behind closed doors”) at the end of “Rocky III”–by the way, I love how “Rocky IV” reminded audiences of the fight and still didn’t tell them who won! (What a gip.) Anyway, Rocky tells Donnie that Apollo won the fight, and I was happy…but then when I thought about it, I realized if Rocky won, he wouldn’t tell that to Apollo’s son. So, WE STILL DON’T KNOW! But I’m fine still wondering.

Anyway, Rocky trains Donnie, who wants to keep his identity as Apollo Creed’s offspring a secret so he can make it on his own. Rocky and Donnie develop a nice father/son relationship that grows as Rocky learns he has lymphoma and has to be reminded by Donnie why it’s important to fight in life. Meanwhile, Donnie learns to control his anger and what it means to go his own way in his ambition.

“Creed” is the “Rocky” film that gets back to what made “Rocky” and “Rocky II” so special–putting its interesting characters center-stage and showing exactly what’s at stake, thus making us care for who wins in the climactic boxing match. Speaking of which, the fight scenes are very well-executed, including a match midway through the film that is only done in ONE TAKE! The film also gives us an interesting new character in Adonis Creed to root for, and his relationship with Rocky is a special one that is both written and acted brilliantly.

“Creed” was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, whose previous film was the excellent “Fruitvale Station” (also starring Jordan) and whose later film was one of my favorite MCU movies, “Black Panther” (which I’ll get to soon enough). He’s got a pretty good track record!

My only complaint about “Creed” is Donnie’s rival, “Pretty” Ricky (Anthony Bellew), isn’t nearly as interesting as Apollo was in the first movie. He’s just kind of a loudmouthed boring antagonist. Also, this is more of a nitpick, but while I could understand Bianca (Donnie’s girlfriend, played by Tessa Thompson) turning her back on Donnie when his anger gets to be too much, I don’t appreciate an earlier moment in which she gets cold the moment she finds out Donnie is the son of Apollo Creed. (It doesn’t become a big thing anyway, so her behavior just seemed pointless.)

The film ends really well, with Donnie and Rocky climbing those familiar 72 steps. It made me wonder, this seems like a perfect ending to the Rocky franchise–do we NEED another sequel after this?

Well, walking into “Creed II,” directed by Steven Caple Jr., I was wondering if it was necessary to see the story continue. As it turned out, it was! These characters aren’t gone yet, and especially Donnie has more room to grow, so why not give us more with them? And “Creed II” did…even if I now have to accept the cartoonish villains in “Rocky IV” as “real” characters now, thanks to their returns in this more grounded story.

“Creed” is one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2010s. And I recently reviewed “Creed II,” so you can find out more about my thoughts on it here: https://smithsverdict.com/2019/08/16/creed-ii-2018/

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