I’m not the biggest fan of sports movies, or sports in general. However, I do often enjoy sports movies that are well-made and interesting, and which tell a fascinating story. Sports movies also happen to either be inspiring, energetic films, or saccharine, clichéd messes. I am very reluctant to write this review, because quite honestly, Creed falls heavily into the later group, and considering the enormous fanbase that this film has accumulated since its release, a negative review of this film seems taboo. However, as much as I wanted to love it, I found myself unimpressed throughout, and while I may be reviled for not liking this film, I have to be blunt – I just didn’t enjoy it, and I truly wanted to like it, because the legacy of the franchise this film forms a part of should be respected, and while it isn’t in any way disrespected, it was not done the honour it could’ve been done.
The franchise I allude to is obviously the iconic Rocky franchise, which made a star of Sylvester Stallone and entertained audiences for years. The first Rocky film is one of the greatest films ever made, but over time, the quality started to dip, and it culminated in a disappointing “final” Rocky film, Rocky Balboa, ten years ago. Luckily, that franchise didn’t end with a low point with that film, but rather managed to crawl out of the gutter and regain some dignity with Creed. One can say what they want about Creed, but as a whole, it is certainly not a bad film, and it is an interesting revitalization to the Rocky franchise. That is an undeniable fact, but to be honest, when I first heard Creed was being made, I thought nothing of it – it seemed to be a blatant attempt to cash in on an iconic franchise, and that it would suffer the same fate as the rest of the Rocky films of recent years, especially the ill-fated 2006 film. It just seemed to be a tasteless cash-grab, where nostalgia and fond memories would cause audiences to go an see the film. The involvement of Sylvester Stallone was not comforting either, as there are very few actors who have gone from having a fantastic reputation to having an almost complete absence of credibility when it comes to acting, and it could just be his attempt to be relevant again. Thankfully, Creed was not nearly bad enough to be seen in this light, but it certainly was not good enough to warrant the comparisons with the original film, and if anything, it is just a passable attempt at replicating the success of the first film.
Ryan Coogler is most certainly an actor to look out for. His debut film, Fruitvale Station, was well-received and a very important and socially relevant film, and even then, it was evident that he had a future as a great filmmaker. It was natural that his next project would be something equally as ambitious, and it takes quite a bit of courage to want to reboot the most iconic sports movie franchise of all time, but he did it, and it is admirable that he took the risk. Perhaps his efforts that went into making this film are far more impressive than what actually was presented to us in the end, and I will probably be reviled once again for saying this, but Creed was a definite step down from Fruitvale Station, which was an explosive and undeniably ambitious as a project. Creed just seemed to be switching between being a notable reboot of a great franchise, and another instance of just trying to do something nostalgic but fresh. I don’t have a problem with Coogler – this is his second film, and he’s a young director, and like all young directors, he will certainly mature with time and find a niche, and build upon his directorial style. However, Creed is just simply too scattered as a film, and as a writer, his script is too clichéd and he doesn’t allow for proper characterization, and watching carefully, the patterns and tropes that plague the most mediocre and uninteresting sports movies do start to appear through the cracks in the facade. Some tighter writing and more assured direction would have made Creed an almost flawless sports movie from the perspective of direction and writing.
Now here is the contentious point, and one that I am not quite sure how to approach – but I think Michael B. Jordan was not the right choice for this lead role. I am sure that Coogler wrote the role with Jordan in mind (they did work together on Fruitvale Station), but considering the performance Carl Weathers gave in the early Rocky films, I just did not see the correlation. Now to be fair, the character does spend his boxing career in the shadow of his father, and thus tries to distance himself from it, and Coogler does try to show that sharing a last name with someone means that you are necessarily inherent of their traits. Quite simply, Jordan does not have the screen presence needed for this role. He played his role in Fruitvale Station very well, because that role needed a quiet, but intense performance. Jordan just didn’t seem to have the right personality to play the role. The character of Apollo Creed was iconic because of how wry and subversively funny he was, and Jordan’s performance as Adonis Creed is almost entirely humorless, which is not really a negative point (a film like this does not require any form of humour), but rather his character is written as so humourless most of the time, at the point where he attempts to be more lighthearted, it fails considerably, because it isn’t clear as to what Jordan is actually trying to do with this performance – is he trying to be powerfully strong, or is he trying to be deeply romantic, or is he trying to be a goofy young man? The points where this film failed the most were with Adonis’ interactions with his romantic interest, played by Tessa Thompson. Those scenes tried to be sweet and lighthearted (as did the scenes between Stallone and Talia Shire in the original Rocky film), but they were so lazily written, and they felt really forced, and almost unbearable to watch, because the strong personality of Thompson, combined with the quiet personality of Jordan, just didn’t match as much as I thought it could’ve, and a big part of that is because Jordan just doesn’t seem to know where he wanted this performance to go, and while he is most likely perfect for the part, as it was probably written for him, his performance left so much to be desired. I have nothing against Jordan, and I do think his career is going to become very interesting, but he hasn’t really impressed me in any of his performances so far, not even in Fruitvale Station, where the compelling element of the film didn’t come from his performance, but from the powerful story and script that he was performing from. With talks of a sequel to Creed, I am not quite sure if Jordan will continue with the same kind of performance, or if he will grow into the role well, but I just was not a fan of his performance here, as much as I was hoping to see him as the revelation others claim him to be. He doesn’t give a bad performance, but rather an uninteresting one.
The draw for most people isn’t Jordan, or the story – but rather who Jordan and the story were joined by. It would have been truly easy for this film to be made without Stallone – it didn’t have to be a sequel to the Rocky films, and there have been spin-offs and reboots with the original stars and filmmakers completely unattached. I won’t partake in that common recent practice of praising Sylvester Stallone for being a cinematic legend and a great actor. To be blunt, he has had one of the worst careers in Hollywood history, because he just chased over the same projects that made him a household name. However, I will say that he is an icon, because of two roles – John Rambo, and obviously Rocky Balboa, one of the great leading characters in film history. These two roles were loved enough, and his performances in those two films were great enough for Stallone to find his place in cinema history – but that doesn’t make him a great actor, and his career choices have been so questionable. However, I was ecstatic to see his return to form in Creed, where he takes a backseat from the lead role and rather does his best in the same kind of role that he gave to Burgess Meredith forty years ago – the elderly and loving, but tough, mentor to the young lead. Reprising his role as Rocky is one of the best choices in Stallone’s career, because one can view Creed in two ways – as a start to a new saga, about a charismatic young fighter with a future ahead of him, and also as a continuation of the story of Rocky Balboa, and perhaps maybe even the end of his story. Coogler does his very best to honour Stallone’s previous performances by giving him a substantial amount of work to do here, and Stallone did his very best to return into the mind of the character that gave him his breakout into the world of cinema, and even though I found myself cringing at some of the more clichéd moments between Jordan and Stallone (one downside to Coogler’s direction is that his characters too often resolve issues with heightened anger and saccharine arguing rather than in a natural way – in this film, everything seems slightly detached from reality), I did think Stallone did a good job of returning into the character in a way that displayed the elements of the character we love, but also in a way that didn’t blatantly try and steal focus from the main character. I did like Stallone in this film, and even though his performance was a far cry from his original performance in 1976, it was still a good performance.
I was really hoping to love Creed, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t great either. It was somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning towards being a good film. The deafening buzz around this film made me think it would be a pleasant surprise, but instead it was just a relatively passable addition to the boxing film canon. However, hope is not lost, and if a franchise built on Creed was ever to happen, I could see it slowly becoming a more natural, interesting franchise, and hopefully one where Jordan can become more comfortable in both this role, and as a leading man. I don’t doubt he possesses the ability to carry a film by himself, but if the saga does continue, and Balboa does end up being written out eventually, Jordan is going to need to consider that fact that he will be carrying the films all by himself. However, some tighter writing and some assured direction would have fixed Creed‘s flaws, which sadly often outnumber the positive aspects. I was heavily disappointed in Creed, and I just wish it was a better film, because it had so much potential