Hailed as the best movie of the year, Creed is exactly the kind of overlong, deliriously predictable feature that comes away with its accolades for all the wrong reasons.
The movie follows Donnie Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) from the first few Rocky movies. Johnson is a successful coorporate climber in his early 20s, but gives it all up to pursue a boxing career because, as much as he wants to stay out of his father’s shadow, he also wants to follow in his footsteps. No one will train him, so he moves from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to train under his father’s old rival and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in another display of blatantly taking advantage of his heritage while also saying he doesn’t want to take advantage of it. As Balboa trains Johnson, Ricky Conlon (Tony Bellew), the light heavyweight champion of the world, has an opponent drop out due to injury, and selects the unproven main character to take his place, which, if you remember, is the exact plot from Rocky.
The problem with Creed has nothing to do with talent or lack of filmmaking ability. Johnson’s second fight, the only truly good part of the movie, proves this, as the two-round bout is taken in all in one incredible shot. The camera circles the fighters intimately, panning to their trainers between rounds and the audience after Johnson’s victory. A feat of pure coordination and skill on the part of the filmmakers and particularly the actors involved, it immediately enters the conversation as best technical boxing scene in movie history.
The rest of the movie has absolutely nothing like it. Director Ryan Coogler gets his kicks in all the wrong scenes, notably with a long, slow-motion shot of Johnson running up the street during his training. It’s dramatic, it’s cinematic, it’s got no real storytelling value. As if to tease viewers, the film features a similar long shot of Johnson getting ready and walking to the ring for his fight with Conlon, and a long, slow-motion shot of Conlon walking into the ring, but the fight itself is shot in boring, conventional boxing movie style. The problem with Creed is a distinct, obvious lack of ambition. They were clearly capable of making a movie that is spectacular in every way, and somewhere along the line decided that wasn’t the priority.
Instead, the priority apparently was to recreate Rocky as exactly as possible, in a way that creates odd parallels between the movie and its title character. Johnson repeats several times that he wants to forge his own legacy in the boxing world, but just as often takes advantage of his heritage. Creed, as a movie, wants to forge its own mythology — read: franchise — independent of its Rocky heritage, but is completely taking advantage of the six movies that came before. It is structurally almost identical to the first Rocky movie. That movie has an iconic training montage, and Creed has three. That movie had a love interest who didn’t really have anything to do with the plot, and Creed has a one, too (Tessa Thompson’s Bianca). The original film hasn’t aged well at all, and Creed feels like just as much of a relic.
There’s a lot of pandering in this movie, and it gets bothersome. With the most talented black actor under 30 in the lead role and most viewers who remember the series’ original run already sewn up, they obviously go to great lengths to appeal to a young black audience, but not to any real effort. The training montages all have that hippity-hop the kids listen to these days. Special attention is paid to Philadelphia’s apparently thriving off-roaders on roads community. To top it off, of course, there’s that one scene where Rocky doesn’t know what the cloud is.
There’s also some significant Oscar pandering — they give Balboa cancer.
Despite its one transcendent scene, Creed is mostly an unexceptional movie filled with a lot of things meant to fool you into thinking it’s good. If you want a movie with a lot of rap, cancer and slow motion, all used not because they’re the best tools to tell a story or because they’re the best story to tell, but because that’s what the studio heard people respond to these days, you’ll come away satisfied. But if you’re looking for a well-made technical movie, they only did one scene of it.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Told ya. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.