As Sylvester stallone knows only too well after having to come up with 6 Rocky’ flicks, Its hard to make an original boxing film. Even before Rocky you had films like “The Champ” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” which were already about underdog boxers chasing the title. in 1976 Sylvester stallone brilliantly re-invented the genre with a more contemporary sensibility and inspirational modern score. The first Rocky film took its time, and allowed you to get to know and appreciate all the characters. Unfortunately The newer films/sequels were like shortened Best of clip reel: workout scenes, power ballads, motivational speeches, and a victorious fist raised in the air at the end to serve as story.
Through it all, front and center in the rocky films was of course Rocky Balboa immortalized by Sly. Rocky as a character was interesting because, in addition to boxing, he loved animals, had a thing for the mousy pet store worker down the street, had a sparring brotherly relationship with Paulie and his Loan Shark Employer, and developed a deep father/son vibe with Micky his soon-to-be trainer He was a “neighborhood guy” a lovable lug. In essence, The first Rocky did a lot to establish him as a character even before he put on gloves.
Sylvester Stallone is largely the hero of this new Creed film. Retired, old, and tired, Rocky has to curl his pain into words instead of a fist. The script allows him to be in turns reflective, nostalgic, and wise in a way that his characters haven’t quite been able to tap into before because they were too busy training. To me, the film could have been called, The trainer, and it would have been equally apt. Stallone is the heart and soul of Creed and if Stallone doesn’t at least get an Oscar Nomination for his performance I would be very surprised.
Where the film falls down a bit for me is in the performance/writing of the film’s main character, Adonnis Creed. The character of, Adonnis father, Apollo Creed, was larger than life. A brash, fast talking champ in the style of Mohammed Ali. His son, Adonis creed, is unfortunately monosyllabic and dour through large stretches of the film so its hard to really build up a lot of enthusiasm for him as a character. Sure he’s bitter because his father Apollo died and he has to fight against his image in the ring but is that it, is that all he is bitter? The film does try and humanize him a bit with a romance with a local singer but his character is both under-written and the actor himself is largely undemonstrative. What we are left with as an audience is simply to root for Adonnis because he is a good Boxer and his father was a legend. This is not enough for me. He also has to be likable. Its also hard to see where his true love and passion for boxing comes from because he has a corporate job and seems more of a boxing hobbyist when the film begins. also, unlike Rocky, Adonnis doesn’t have any kind of an entourage.His mom is kind of a cameo, his former boss, and would be trainer are off the screen quicker than a first round TKO. So, He’s basically a loner. Without a Paulie in his world to “bust his chops a little” or an Adrienne to keep him on the straight and narrow, Adonnis just seems a little too self-involved and boring.
Aside from the limitations of the main character, however,The film is a nice, gritty, if not highly original fight film. The plot, of course, features the well worn grooves of most rocky films and throws in everything that has worked. The film even borrows liberally from the ill-advised Rocky 5 installment where Rocky trains a boxer who just “shows up” in his neighborhood because he asks. Underdog chasing the title, facing adversity, working out, etc. the goes through the familiar beats Of course we know that Rocky will eventually go out of retirement, acquiesce and train Adonnis. In the wacky (one more round) Rocky Universe, who knows, its not even out of the question to assume that, if asked by Adonnis, Rocky may have even consented to put on his own moth eaten boxing trunks and step into the ring one more last time.
The film, I feel, could have touched/mirrored on one of the more interesting things about father Apollo Creed’s ultimate demise in the ring. Apollo died in the ring (in Rocky 4), not just because he was a fighter and wanted to go out fighting but he also ventured back into the ring because of ego and nationalist sentiment. He didn’t want the Russians (evil) to win. the Us against Them vibe of the cold war. I’m not suggesting that they have Adonis battle a member of a group like Isis to make it relevant politically (Although that might be interesting if they were able to do it without being insensitive or cornball- no small feat) but perhaps they could have drawn a parallel to Adonis own ego and that he boxes for some larger goal: pride, equality, self-hood, or his place in society/ the world to give him a larger motivation to box other than the mere competition aspect.
Some may think it unfair for me to compare Creed with Rocky. But with a plot so familiar to every other Rocky film, its hard not compare the new incarnation to its classier predecessors. Throughout much of the film, Adonnis is called “Baby Creed” and must work his butt off to, stand on his own, and get out of Apollos shadow. I think he has a bigger problem than that, to break out of Rocky’s shadow and with Sly’s previous 6 films and his charismatic presence in Creed, Rocky is still the champ for me. But see the new Creed film for yourself and see if you agree.