Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, August 26, 2016


Rocky Balboa’s story ended in, well, “Rocky Balboa.” Even someone as sequel happy as Sylvester Stallone realized continuing the story beyond that point was ridiculous. However, sometimes unexpected things happen. Ryan Coogler, an up-and-coming director who had won acclaim for “Fruitvale Station,” was apparently a big fan of the “Rocky” series, feeling a personal connection with the films. He had an idea for a new film that was as much sequel as spin-off. In other words, “Creed” was essentially “Rocky” fan fiction that became official. Even more surprising, “Creed” would be a hit with audiences and critics. The film even took Sylvester Stallone, a creative mind who rarely gets the respect he deserves, back to the Academy Awards for the first time in forty years.

When he was ten years old, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson discovered that his father was Apollo Creed, world famous boxing champion, and that he was the result of an extramarital affair. Taken in by Creed’s widow, Adonis spends his whole life trying to live up to his late father’s legacy. While working at a comfortable office job, he competes in underground boxing matches. After quitting his job and getting rejected by his father’s gym, he flies to Philadelphia. Meeting up with Rocky Balboa, he talks the former champ into training him. Soon, an oppretunity arrives for Adonis to prove his worth.

Ryan Coogler’s admiration for the “Rocky” series is obvious in “Creed.” The film features many callbacks to the franchise’s history. Rocky is still spending most of his time at Adrian’s. He still visits his late wife’s grave all the time, with Paulie recently joining his sister. Robert Jr. is living in Vancouver with a girlfriend. Mickey’s gym is a major setting. Adonis trains by jumping rope and chasing chickens. Moreover, “Creed” clearly imitates the original “Rocky,” in story and tone. Both films concern an inexperienced boxer eager to prove himself. He gets that chance when the reigning champ asks to fight him. There’s a love story and a montage of running down the street. Something else “Creed” has in common with “Rocky” is a naturalistic tone. Coogler shoots at a street level, with lots of ambient noise and atmosphere.

The film is named “Creed,” instead of “Adonis,” not just for commercial reasons. Throughout the film, Donnie struggles with his relationship with his deceased father. On one hand, he idolizes him, his bloodline initially driving him to become a boxer. After entering the ring, and his true parentage being revealed to the world, he starts to resent the name. That everyone assumes he’s a “Fake Creed” or a “Baby Creed,” someone coasting on his father’s legacy and unworthy of that name. By the end, he’s come to peace with it, during an especially touching sequence. Michael B. Jordan’s performance is excellent, as someone struggling with his birthright and fighting to prove himself.

“Rocky” and “Creed” both feature their titular boxer falling in love. But Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is very different from Adrien. A would-be R&B star, Bianca has a promising musical career. She also has progressive hearing loss, already using a hearing aide in one ear, that will eventually rob her of her hearing altogether. At first, she is resistant to Adonis’ advances. However, he slowly charms her. Their first date – getting Philly cheese steaks at a local restaurant – is an awfully sweet moment. When he visits her apartment, goofing around with her musical equipment, is another stand-out sequence. The film isn’t without its trumped up melodrama, such as when Adonis picks a fight at a club were Bianca is singing, but it’s also good at defusing moments like that. Such as Adonis not revealing his true last name to her sooner, which dissolves in a really sweet scene. The romance is the secret heart of “Creed,” Jordan and Thompson’s chemistry making the film better then it otherwise would’ve been.

“Creed” is about Donnie but the film still continues Rocky’s storyline. Balboa has settled into retirement, happily running his restaurant, his fighting days long behind him. He’s reluctant to train the younger Creed, as everyone he loves has left him, but is eventually talked into it. During filming, Stallone was the same age Burgess Meredith was during “Rocky,” making his transition into trainer a natural choice. This makes the training montages especially joyous. Yet the film gives Rocky a juicier arc then that. Midway through the film, he collapses suddenly. A trip to the doctor reveals that Rocky has cancer. At first, he’s disinterested in treatment, deciding he’s had enough of a life already. Soon, Creed convinces him otherwise. The film happily makes the comparison that both Rocky and Donnie are fighting. One in the ring, one for his life. Stallone’s Oscar nominated performance is restrained, lived-in, relaxed, but quietly touching.

Like the original “Rocky,” “Creed” doesn’t feature very many boxing matches. There’s a few brief scuffles in the beginning, a major fight at the mid point, and the championship bout at the end. Over these few scenes, Coogler shows a definite aptitude for action direction. For Creed’s first major fight, Coogler takes the camera inside the ring. During an impressive single shot, the camera zips in-between the two fighters, around the punches, whipping in and out of their corners. It’s the action high-light of the film. However, the final fight is still highly cinematic, an exciting sequence determined to make the audience feel the impact of the blows and the power of the punches. (The director’s handle on action is certainly good news for Coogler’s upcoming gig in the Marvel universe.)

“Creed” is clearly derivative of the very first “Rocky.” Both films even have similar endings. Then again, “Rocky” was derivative of other inspirational sports movie before it. With a strong directorial arm and a fantastic cast, Coogler, Stallone, and the rest of the team have created a worthy new addition to the franchise and a film that stands fantastically on its own. The odds seem good that “Creed” will launch a new franchise. Sly is eager to play his iconic role well into retirement age. Maybe Adonis can fight Ivan Drago Jr. in part two? That’d be cool. [8/10]

[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Lonely Old Man]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Before Sylvester Stallone nearly won an Academy Award for "Creed," he seemed ready and eager to continue to ride his action movie legacy. Further sequels to "Rambo" and "The Expendables" were planned. After Sly's brush with Oscar gold, the veteran star's future plans seem to have changed. He's only currently announced future projects is a supporting role in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" sequel. While a "Creed" sequels seems a likely proposition, perhaps Sly is finally starting to slow down in his old age? He's more then earned it. Whatever the old guy gets up to next, I'm intrigued.

Thus concludes the Sylvester Semester Part II. Thanks for reading. I'll return soon, I promise.

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