In the weeks leading up to Ronda Rousey’s devastating knockout loss at the hands (and foot!) of Holly Holm, the so-called UFC superstar’s display of raw emotion, albeit insufferable, is ultimately what made us care about the fight outcome in the first place. As it were, I suppose this construct is true for most human interactions; hold on to this sentiment because we will juxtapose it against a plot line flaw in the movie Creed. Ryan Coogler’s Creed is, for all intents and purposes, the seventh installment in the Rocky franchise. While this cinematic offering is stunning, replete with well-choreographed fight scenes and stellar acting by its protagonists Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson) and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), it never really resonated with me on an emotional level. Although the canines in the movie house were quick to bark out their emotions when fetching master’s slippers and newspaper in exchange for a pat on the head, I’m a cat, and one needs to earn these tears and heart. Stupid dog!
Adonis Johnson or Donnie to his closest friends I suppose (if he has any because the movie sure doesn’t make it clear) is the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed. Longing to spurn his white-collar job, the Creed name and Los Angeles opulence, “Boy Creed” makes his way to Philadelphia to make a name for himself in the boxing world. Who needs the Creed name to make it in the boxing game when one’s meteoric rise is inevitable (more on that in a moment)? No longer taking club-level fights in a seedy locale in Tijuana, Mexico, Adonis persuades Rocky to become his trainer. The two forge an inextricable bond on their way to a title fight for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World. The duo’s complicated and symbiotic relationship is on full display in this movie, where Adonis needs the insight of a tested and grizzled trainer to negotiate the pitfalls of professional prizefighting and Rocky clearly needs the millennial to school him in the ways of modern technology. Yes, the “Cloud” (you’ll need to watch the movie to fully understand). Okay, that last jab (pun intended) really undermines the relationship the two of them share. It’s much deeper than that. Besides, whenever Rocky is part of any relationship you always have a puncher’s chance (okay I’m done!).
In the second half of the movie, we’re introduced to Adonis’ love-interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and this is where things really began to bog down for me. The onscreen chemistry between the pair seemed fabricated and forced. This screen time could have been put to better use by addressing some minor plot line flaws like Donnie’s ascent to the light heavyweight championship bout, despite having no real boxing profile. Please don’t tell me getting knocked out by Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler (Andre Ward) or an epic fight with Leo ‘The Lion’ Sporino (Gabe Rosario) smooths things over. Perhaps I shouldn’t maintain an address in Realville; or perhaps you should. The point that I am laboring to make is….why bother? Let’s simply move on! Wait a minute, I’m no quitter! If you want to create an epic film as opposed to a “good not great” film, these subtle nuances matter. Now back to this whole relationship thing: Is it really a relationship if Bianca is willing to jettison her love affair with Adonis over the fact that he chose
not to reveal that Apollo Creed was his father? This is a plot point for a less sophisticated movie. In fact, I find this theatrical conceit toilsome and cheap. This movie simply deserves better. “Yo Bianca! You deserve better, too!”
In today’s professional fight game culture, a rising star’s handlers protect their charges by ginning up interest before a title fight, which is typically slow and sustained. During the pre-fight press conference for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World, the titleholder Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) laments the point when he facetiously labels Adonis an “overnight success.” Moreover, HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman pointedly asks about young Adonis, “Can he fight?” Excuse me? I know it’s only a movie, but shouldn’t we already have the answer by the time he climbs into the ring with the champ? These lazy plot lines are formulaic, making it difficult for this cinematic purist to feign emotion that was not earned. A very good friend of mine confessed that he was nearly brought to tears on four separate occasions while watching Creed because he was rapt with emotion. I was nearly moved to tears for diametrically opposing reasons. My near-tears were due to ennui, not emotion.
The one thing that made the previous Rocky franchise so universally popular was that these movies grappled with our hearts, placing them in an arm bar, trying to force us to tap out. Fortunately, we never relented because the emotion is what made us care for the characters, plot lines and storytelling. It would be socially irresponsible of me to tell anyone to skip this movie, yet I’m compelled to issue this caveat to readers: If you’re looking to watch a movie ripe with emotion, you may need to tamp down your expectations because this is not the film; instead, watch Southpaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal for an evening with your emotions.
Having espoused this, the dichotomous narrative of the film left me torn between good cop and bad cop. On the one hand, the pugilistic formula employed by Coogler (breathtaking fight sequences, authentic boxing gym settings, and the use of real-life boxers and commentators) helped this film earn its place as a true successor to the Rocky franchise. On the other hand, two hours and twelve minutes are more than enough time to cast a spell over the audience, connecting each moviegoer with the dramatic underpinnings he or she so richly deserves. This movie failed to do this and, as a result, failed to re-connect fans with any substantive emotion which was a staple of the bygone Rocky movie era. Perhaps if Sly Stallone had worked on the screenplay, the movie would have achieved the emotional depth for which I was pining.
This movie works stylistically and has some very good elements. It is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. The cinematography is brilliant; the fight scenes are staged masterfully; and the acting and direction are top-notch. If it sounds as though I did not enjoy the movie, one reading this review would be misrepresenting my words. Had it only taken care to provide the requisite dramatic appeal we have come to expect from a Rocky (let’s not go there, please) movie, it would have truly been spectacular. Now, what about the lead-in to this review with the Ronda Rousey commentary? It’s simple. Raw emotion makes us care about the characters, plot and storytelling in movies. If the director fails to engage moviegoers by immersing them in the emotion of the film, the result can be quite literally sad commentary. It is your prerogative to disagree with me and, perhaps most will, but I did not find an emotional connection with this Creed film; and trust me, I tried! I wanted so badly to be a part of the celebration but it never materialized. Here’s a point on which we all can agree: Many are calling this film a redemption story, and I certainly agree! The redemptive value for me is the fact that young Adonis Creed did not win the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World; had he actually won, I would have stood and yelled at the screen, “Cut me, Mick!”
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K. Lorenzo is New to the FOP pose. Long time comic nerd and fan junky, He's a bit uncomfortable with the mic so he prefers to write.