Saturday, January 16, 2016

CREED (2015): Rocky Revisited

Sylvester Stallone is back once again in Creed playing his most famous character, Rocky Balboa.  Rocky, originally filmed in 1976, resulted in six sequels (including Creed) – some good and others not so good.  Creed , a 133 minute film, is well paced the only sequel that almost equals the merit of the original.

While Creed greatly resembles the original Rocky, there are a few significant differences.  The lead role features Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, rather than by Stallone.  Adonis is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s late great rival, Apollo Creed.  After spending a number of years in orphanages and juvenile lockup, Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), finally decides to adopt the boy.  Adonis spends the remainder of his adolescence living in an affluent California home and eventually works in an office.

Adonis is not satisfied, however.  The memory of the father he never met haunts him and he decides, against his adopted mother’s wishes, to take on a career as a boxer.  Since the California gyms do not prove promising, he eventually makes his way to Philadelphia to ask Rocky to train him.  Rocky reluctantly takes on this task.  In Philadelphia, Adonis also falls in love with a young singer he meets named Bianca (Tessa Thompson).  Tessa plays essentially the same supporting role as Adrian in the earlier Rocky films.  Her struggle is hearing loss that, we discover, will eventually lead to total deafness.  Predictably, Adonis fights some difficult opponents and eventually gets a chance at the light-heavyweight championship.  He goes the distance against the undefeated champion, Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), and just as occurs in Rocky loses the fight on a split decision.

What makes this film succeed, unlike many of the other sequels, is the relationship between Rocky, as a trainer, and his new protégé.  The training sequences are probably the best in any Rocky film, and Stallone plays the role of an experienced a wise trainer remarkably well.  Stallone also limits the pathos – a pathos that nearly destroys all of the other sequels. 

Rocky has struggles of his own.  He learns he is suffering from cancer and decides to refuse treatment so that he can join his late wife, Adrian, who died from cancer.  Adonis refuses to allow Rocky to make such a choice.  Adonis convinces Rocky that he will do everything in his power to seek the championship belt if Rocky will abide by the instructions of his doctors.  Adonis lives in the same apartment with Rocky and helps him out every instance that Rocky struggles from the effects of the chemotherapy.  In the end, Rocky discovers that he is cancer free, and Adonis bonds with the new father figure who helps him become a man.

The film is honest and simple – perhaps a bit too simple because we have seen this script before.  Still, this is the only Rocky film where the fight sequences are only slightly overstated.  The romance in Creed also plays a smaller role – though the relationship between the two young people remains a tender one.  This film will never be remembered like the original only because director, Ryan Coogler, resists including the same elements that made Rocky such a box office draw.  Yet by doing so, Coogler provides us a film that is mostly unpretentious and better than most.

January 16, 2016
©  Robert S. Miller 2016

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