It is very rare that the seventh film in an established franchise, or better yet, a seventh film intended to spin off into another giant franchise, is made because it is a passion project of the director. Usually the seventh film is made is because the sixth made money, but that isn’t the case with Creed (but don’t get me wrong, they still intend to make this a bankable franchise in its own right). Creed is that rare seventh film in which the director, Ryan Coogler, had this idea that he’s been developing in his head for years, and after the success he had with Fruitvale Station, he was able to pitch his idea for a Creed film to Warner Bros. and Sly Stallone, and he convinced them to give him the money to make this, and he convinced Stallone to come back and reprise his role as one of the greatest American icons to ever exist in pop culture. With that being said and understanding the process behind why and how the film was made, it was deeply disappointing that the film felt more like a gimmick than a passion project, even though there were moments and glimpses of excellence with explosions of emotion that illustrate how much potential this had if Coogler was more interested in telling the story of Adonis Creed instead of trying to tell another story in the Rocky saga.
The story follows the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson (played by Michael B. Jordan) trying to make his own name in the boxing world, who doesn’t want to live in the shadow of Apollo. Adonis quits his job at a finance firm in the beginning of the film to start boxing full time, much to the chagrin of his mother, and the journey starts, along with the many issues, starting with the editing. The film had powerfully charged and resonant moments, but there wasn’t any narrative cohesiveness, which made these instances feel like smaller vignettes instead of smaller moments of a larger movie.
It felt like the team that cut and edited together the trailer also cut and edited together this film. The editing was choppy and uneven, stripping these powerful explosions of emotion and excellence and making them feel more ordinary than they deserved to. There is a scene early on where Adonis confronts his mother on the carpeted steps of their home, and lets her know his plans to box full time. And Phylicia in this scene delivered such powerful dialogue, displaying a mother who felt scared for her son trying to follow in the footsteps of her husband who died in the ring, but this mother was also disappointed in not only herself but her son as well. Phylicia delivered her lines with power and restraint, playing up the emotion which made the responses of Adonis that much more emotionally resonant. And then that scene ends, and it cuts to Adonis in a taxi in Philly, and that was that. That cut to something completely unrelated, and that cut to a scene that doesn’t carry over the same weight or emotion to what came prior truly made that scene between the two feel completely irrelevant and useless, even though it demonstrated such acting prowess from two great actors. And unfortunately, that isn’t the only time in the film in which a powerhouse scene was undercut by what followed.
Adonis, once in Philly, finds Rocky and asks to be trained, which Rocky initially declines the invitation before accepting it moments later. Sly Stallone and Michael B. Jordan had great chemistry when they were on screen together, and the film was best in the quieter moments, outside the ring and just in the conversations. Unfortunately, their relationship was built on an artificial plotline, and the script failed to convince me that Rocky would actually choose to train Adonis. It just never fit. At first Rocky was reluctant, then he walks by the gym, decides to go in, runs into Adonis and Boom! Gives this speech about whether Adonis could be great or not, and their training begins. The entire set up of the movie felt artificial and contrived, and shortcuts in the script really hindered what this movie could have been.
Speaking of contrivances, there was a romantic element to the film, but the romance was rushed through instead of gradually set up, and even though Tessa Thompson did a fine job as Bianca, Adonis’ sort of girlfriend with dreams of being a singer, their story was just very uninteresting and bland. It felt like Coogler was trying to set up a similar story as to what the original Rocky did between Rocky and Adrian, except the difference is that the original Rocky was essentially a love story which masqueraded as a boxing film, while Creed is a boxing film which throws together this romantic element, and it didn’t add up. It felt more like a nuisance than a story point in which we should invest in. In fact, this story should have been scrapped altogether and they should have focused on delving into the relationship between Adonis and his own mother. He left the house on bad terms with her, but instead of delving into that story more, Phylicia Rashad pops up in glimpses only when the film wants to try and make us feel something for a side story that didn’t deserve it. It honestly felt like the only purpose for Adonis’ mom to even be in the movie was for that one scene early on, because that story is just dropped and vaguely alluded to. But then they have her presence pop back up before the final fight and it just felt out of place in a movie that clearly didn’t care enough about her character to give her anything to do.
Now, with all of that being said, the actual boxing scenes are filmed with anger and aggression, putting us right in the action, making us feel the brutality of the punches, the camera work trying to leave us as bruised and battered as the fighters on screen. One fight in particular is done in one take, or at least that’s the impression based on the way the camera moved, and this fight was captured with graceful effectiveness and this straight up mean fervor that truly captured the spirit of who Adonis is as a character. This young man with anger bubbling underneath the surface, looking for another man to connect with, and he finds that in Rocky, and Rocky, whose basically all alone with his son in Canada and his friends and wife dead, finds family in Adonis, which is exactly what he needed.
Whatever flaws that presented themselves in this film, they had nothing to do with the emotion and aggression poured into each performance. Stallone gives one of the best performances of his career, giving us this emotionally raw and vulnerable character, while anger flowed in the veins g Michael B Jordan’s Adonis, and when needed, the anger and emotion erupted off the screen.
This film had the right idea, but it simply tried to do too much, trying to live up to the Rocky name while also creating its own compelling character and hopefully spawn a franchise of its own. While by the end, Creed was able to break free from the shadow of his father, this film failed to step out of the shadow that Rocky cast. Adonis, after one professional fight, gets a shot at the title, and I ever once believed that he actually deserved that shot and I didn’t even care that he got it. The film would have worked better if Creed slowly built his way to the top, and instead of fighting for the title belt right off the bat, it would have been better if he worked the boxing circuit a little bit, and built up his credibility before even getting a shot. The appeal of the Rocky movies is the characterization of both the protagonists and the antagonists. We root for Rocky through and through.
Rocky is just this lovable gentle giant who gets this one shot and makes the most of it. Even if he never got that title shot, we would have been perfectly fine with following him around and delving into his life. With Creed, Coogler tries to blend together the great characterization that the franchise is known for with the basic sports movie genre, but it simply doesn’t mesh well. Once it got to the final championship bout, even though the action in the ring was fantastically filmed, I didn’t care about the outcome because the film never sold me on the fact that Adonis deserved this in the first place. Again, they called back to the first movie in which Adonis got the fight because of the marketing benefits, but they never sold me on the character of Adonis enough to let me buy into the fact that he would be fighting for the belt.
At the end of the day, even though this started out as a passion project, it felt more like a gimmick, trying to sell us on a new character while constantly calling back to the older films, and these call backs felt empty because they weren’t earned. There is a moment near the end where the classic Conti score kicks in, and it’s supposed to be this rousing moment that brings the crowd to its feet and make us cheer, yet it just felt empty because the movie didn’t earn that score. It was too basic of a film, just a generic boxing movie that nobody would care about if it wasn’t a part of the Rocky saga. This film did a better job at developing Rocky’s story than it did with Adonis, and for a movie with the Creed name, it just feels like a missed opportunity. Now all I could think about is what could have been, at least until the sequel hopefully changes my tune about this spinoff franchise in the making.