Thursday, December 03, 2015

OVP: Creed (2015)

Film: Creed (2015)
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellow
Director: Ryan Coogler
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Supporting Actor-Sylvester Stallone)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be paying my hard-earned money, excitedly, to go and see yet another Rocky sequel, I would have laughed you into the next room.  Like almost every person who had cable in the 1990's (or went to the movies in the 70's/80's), I have seen multiple Rocky movies, catching them back when they used to be near-constant marathons on TNT, and we all knew the formula, frequently trading on the original Rocky, a major movie that won Best Picture in a field that included Taxi Driver and Network, and then went on to make Sylvester Stallone, "Adrian!" and those 72-steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art all movie lore.  And yet, Creed, after years of the franchise (which, like its star, became a bit of a pop culture punching bag in the years that followed) getting lukewarm reviews about how the myriad sequels have shaken the allure of the first film, has reignited the franchise in a way no one else could have suspected.  In a year where long-running series like Mad Max, Jurassic World, and Star Wars all made it back to the screen, perhaps no movie quite shocked this moviegoer quite like the kinetic Creed, an electrically fast-paced movie that features memorable long-take cinematography and proof that boxing movies, when done well, can still fire up a crowd.

(Spoilers Ahead) I think the thing that instantly started to set apart Creed was the way that the film, while obviously trying to find a place opposite that of Rocky, wasn't afraid to show the impact of Rocky and the ways that boxing has changed in the decades since.  Here we see both Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa not as characters whose heads we're trying to get inside, but instead as immortals in the world of boxing.  There's a scene late in the movie where Adonis Creed's (Jordan) opponent "Pretty" Ricky Conlin (Bellow) is fighting with Creed at a boxing press conference, and he points out that Creed is coasting on his name, whereas the man sitting next to him (Stallone as Balboa) is the "true" fighter on their team.  Creed, of course, eventually proves to Conlin that he can in fact fight, and that he isn't just a name, but it shows how immortal Balboa has become through the years-even his opponents can't help but respect him.

This is true in many ways of Stallone himself, who has started to gain Oscar buzz for this role, a career-capper after a few misfires in trying to cap his role in the Rocky sequels.  It's quite frankly hard to tell at times whether or not what Stallone is doing is truly great acting, or whether he's able to make decades of nostalgia and Hollywood iconography trick the audience into thinking that's what he's doing, but he's mesmerizing reprising his most legendary role.  Every scene, quite frankly, he seems to be in command of the screen, a magnetic force to be reckoned with; there's a naturalism here, as Stallone knows this character's every heartbeat, but with his age and our knowledge now of the effects of boxing on the brain and development, we see him in a different light as he speaks in short, gruff sentences, and his victories become us cheering on a childhood friend.  Michael B. Jordan, possibly the most exciting male American actor under thirty currently working, is also quite good and finds a wonderful balance with Creed (born in foster care, but eventually raised in intense privilege, his weird combination of entitlement and proving himself is hard act to create, but he nails it), also worth the price of admission but Stallone is the one you're begging to see.  When they finally show the "Rocky Steps" you're realizing what you're seeing is one of the best entries in this series.

The movie, of course, isn't without its faults.  The plot is intensely predictable, even the eventual outcome where Creed gets a technical loss like Rocky did in the first movie, setting up a theoretical sequel, and the film has no idea what to do with its female characters.  Talia Shire won an Academy Award nomination for the first film, but Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson will just have to settle for another line in their SAG cards and hopes that they can command a bigger payday in the sequel, as they are mere window dressing, which is disappointing as a lot of care actually went into creating Thompson's character (whose hearing loss and burgeoning music career made for their own interesting subplot until the entire film dismissed it).  Plus, there's no new ground being tread here that the original film didn't already cross.  Still, the editing and direction are sharp, and the two leading men more than live up to the hype surrounding the performance.  This is a fight you should know you'll be in for a good battle, and you won't have to shell out $200 to HBO for the privilege.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Were you a fan of Creed, or is this the franchise that will never die?  Do you think Stallone can make Oscar history?  And for that matter, can Jordan finally break into the AMPAS club?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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