25 11 2015

For many people, the sounds of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” can pump them up and spur them onto achievement. They can see Rocky Balboa jumping, fists raised, at Philadelphia’s City Hall and feel a surge of inspiration.

I, on the other hand, roll my eyes and laugh.

Sports movies clearly calibrated to trigger a feeling of uplift very rarely work on me, perhaps in some part because athletics were always an arena of disappointment and embarrassment in my personal life. (Give me a tortured artist or woebegone writer flick, though, and we’re in business.) Something about the way they contrive practically every move from a calculated playbook always bores me far more than it excites me. If something were really that moving, why not achieve it organically?

So Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” as nicely mounted it might be, felt dead in the water for me the moment I started recognizing all the expected beats in this passing of the “Rocky” franchise torch. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, the son of the great Apollo Creed, looks to become a professional boxer by training with the great Rocky Balboa. And to do so, he apparently has to go through all the same plot points as his mentor: the training montages, the preparatory fights, the tacked-on romance (with Tessa Thompson, a tremendous rising talent who deserves better).

Creed Michael B Jordan Sylvester Stallone

The process seems helpful for Stallone, who takes a backseat in “Creed” to let a new boxer take over the ring. Over 40 years, he’s suited up as Rocky Balboa seven times, and playing the character as a supporting character gives him a chance to reflect on what his legacy might be. In many ways, he always plays some version of Rocky in every movie. Perhaps this chance to look inwards will inspire the notoriously hardbodied star to lighten up a bit? One can dream.

Though his presence lends the production legitimacy, “Creed” also struggles to escape from Stallone’s large shadow. Coogler gets torn between forging a bold new path for the series while also honoring its venerated history. The result often feels a little unsettled, not to mention fairly conventional for an inspirational sports movie.

A sequel that gives Jordan more room to breathe away from Stallone could be quite a sight to see, though. When pressed on why he wants to keep going, Adonis blurts out, “To prove I’m not a mistake.” You can see that not only in Jordan’s physical frame but also in his palpable desperation. That’s the kind of rousing moment that could really make for a soaring sporting story. C+2stars



3 responses

25 11 2015

When I first saw the trailer for this, my thoughts were similar to what you write about in your second paragraph. But then I read some critics reviews and believed it could be different. But now I read yours, and I’m back to being skeptical again.

25 11 2015

I tend to think skepticism is good. Easier to have a movie beat your expectations if they’re set lower! And if the movie is bad, at least you don’t leave disappointed.

26 11 2015

This is why I tend to avoid movie trailers (Creed was at the cinema so nothing to do there).
The less I know about a film, the higher chance there is for a pleasant surprise. Even if its an explosion or those loud moments trailers are known for, I feel that if I can witness that scene in context instead, I will get more out of it than me already knowing a big explosion is coming anytime now.

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