I wasn’t really anticipating enjoying Creed. I had heard some fairly positive response, but I sort of assumed I’d be able to appreciate it without being especially engrossed or involved in the proceedings. It’s not exactly the sort of film that would normally grab me, despite my fondness for the first Rocky movie. I went to see it because it was high profile, and it was generally receiving a fair amount of praise from fairly trustworthy sources. I figured what the hell, it would probably be an interesting watch.
The story starts with a young Adonis in some sort of juvenile detention centre beating the shit out of the other kids. He gets stuck in a kind of solitary confinement type scenario when a woman shows up to visit him. She explains to Adonis who his father is. His father was the greatest fighter in the world, Apollo Creed. The woman explaining this is Apollo Creed’s wife, and she wants to adopt Adonis to honour her husband’s memory.
When we next see Adonis, he’s fully grown and fighting in a sketchy boxing match in Mexico. This is also one of the first moments the film started to win me over. It was incredibly well made, with a plethora of subtle but powerful choices. For one thing, it’s all presented in one smooth take. It’s not a particularly showy single take, but it adds a lot of power to the moment. It ends quickly, with Adonis knocking his opponent onto his belly before the first round is up. In another subtle touch, Adonis begins taking his gloves off even before the call is made. It is a big selling moment. All these touches add a lot to the film, but Creed never tries too hard to make them sink in (something that it might be guilty of later).
Adonis then travels back from Mexico to his nine to five office job, at which he’s recently been promoted. However he doesn’t feel comfortable in this life and, before the first scene in the office is up, he’s quit his job and driven home to the palatial mansion he shares with his mother. He doesn’t tell her he quit his job. Instead he sets himself up in a dark room with a projector and starts watching clips of his father’s fight with Rocky Balboa. He stands up, lines himself up with Rocky, and starts mirroring his moves through the fight.
The next day Adonis has decided to fight, but he can’t find anyone willing to train him in his hometown. In one gym he makes a stand, taking out one of the resident boxers. However one of the best fighters in the world works in this gym too, and he puts Adonis down. Adonis heads home and he tells his mom about quitting. Adonis explains that he wants to fight professionally now. His mother is horrified; she sees professional boxing as a death sentence. In fact most people in the film do, which is one of the better things about the movie. It almost feels like the most evolved version of this new series would lead to Adonis realizing he doesn’t need to box to fulfill himself, but I digress. Adonis’ mom kicks him out, saying if he’s going to fight he should find somewhere else to live. Adonis was planning on leaving anyway though, and he heads to Philadelphia to find the one man who could beat his father in the ring. Essentially it’s here that the real movie starts.
It’s also here that the movie really fully sold me. The dynamic between Adonis and Rocky, who has to be pestered into training his rival’s son, is great. Both actors sell this relationship well, and when the relationship gets thrown a curveball and they turn on each other? Well it’s easy to see why Stallone’s name is being thrown around as an Oscar contender. The two are engrossing and emotionally raw in a really affecting way. If the movie has any problems, it’s occasionally being a little too on the nose. This is probably best exemplified by Adonis’ love interest. She’s a musician who’s getting progressively deafer with time. See she’s self-destructive too. It’s just like Adonis. Do you get? Like I said it’s a little obvious, but that particular example didn’t bother me in the moment. In part because the rest of the movie is so gripping, but also because the characters are well written and well performed. It still feels real, even if in retrospect it’s a little blunt. It’s the relationship and interplay of these characters that really makes Creed sing. It’s not just the nostalgia triggers (although there are some positively lovely ones). It’s really these characters that give the movie its own identity and a quality that exists independently from the franchise.
Of course, it helps that the movie is so well crafted. It’s not just the script, which paints these rich and engrossing characters, but also the camerawork and editing. The boxing matches, the obvious set pieces in the film, are particularly wonderful. The first fight is shot in one smooth take, and in some ways it’s one of the least showy. The final fight is especially powerful. It’s filled with great moments, but one of my favourites has to be a brief montage centred entirely around blood splattering. It adds an unusual level of viscera and grittiness to the proceedings, as well as coming across as almost abstract.
The sound cues are soaring and just the right level of manipulative, especially by the end. Truly by that final fight I was so won over by the film. It was when I realized how physically tense the last showdown was making me that I was sold. There are some moments that, in retrospect, are manipulative and over the top. I didn’t care though; I just cared about what was going to happen to Adonis and his new family. This scene is so good. The best part is still the characters. There are emotional punches that hit harder than any of the actual boxing.