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Monday
Nov232015

Review: "Creed"

Our newest team member Chris Feil saw the latest in a long dormant franchise early. Here's his review - Editor

Making good on his mainstream sensibilities post-Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler returns with Rocky reboot/sequel/spin-off Creed. Born after his legendary father Apollo's death after an affair, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) attempts to forge his own boxing path without the Creed namesake, recruiting his father's notorious opponent and comrade Rocky Balboa. Similarly, the film tries to have it both ways, attempting to be a sideways stand-alone film while borrowing heavily on the iconography of the original. It is a bit of a left turn for cinema's current trend of cut-and-paste nostalgia, giving Coogler's film a much needed edge for a tired genre, but cursing it with enormous shoes it falls short of filling.

If Fruitvale showed us anything about Ryan Coogler's potential, it was that he could both emotionally invest the audience with a charismatic subject and that he knew how to structure a film's most intense scenes for their maximum dramatic effect. These skills make him the perfect candidate for a mainstream actioner that pulls on the heartstrings, and Creed provides a solid larger platform for him to deliver those goods. Unfortunately still present is his diminished sense of confidence and clarity of vision in extended dialogue scenes, lending to an overall flabby structure. He knows what we want as audience and how to give it to us, but here he has a tricky time transitioning between story beats.

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As a screenwriter (sharing duties with Aaron Covington), he can cut deeply thanks to his steady grasp of his characters, which make the present cliches thud a little harder. A stronger director, he knows to use the Rocky nostalgia sparingly for heightened effectiveness and giving the spotlight to Jordan. While some winks to the original register moreso as shoves, the sentimentality for the series is most effective when used with more grace and subtlety - particularly in the final moments that encapsulate the film's fascination with our bodies' ticking time clock. Also providing some visual verve, fluid camerawork from cinematographer Maryse Alberti keeps the proceedings energized - including in a boxing match that appears as a single take, with the help of digital tinkering.

The rousing impact he shapes is not to be denied because, despite the missteps, the film earns its emotional heights from its often sharp character insights. Though it is leveraging the collective Balboa backstory to play for our tears, Adonis's feelings of abandonment are injected at unexpected moments that give key emotional beats the honesty needed to make the film connect.

It doesn't hurt that the film is gifted with a cast this charismatic. Coogler again gives Michael B. Jordan a vehicle worthy of his inherent star power. As charming as he has ever been, Jordan rallies audience sympathy without ever asking for it. We believe in Adonis partly because of Jordan's straight-forward confidence and ease - he is accessible for the audience rather than sold to it. Tessa Thompson, Creed's surrogate Adrian, continues to be an exciting talent for her clever accessibility, though she's under-served as a stock girlfriend. Phylicia Rashad, always welcome and engaging anywhere we can have her, is an unnecessary element as Apollo's widow and adoptive mother to Adonis.

However, the real unexpected revelation here is Sylvester Stallone. Even in his seventh run of playing his most memorable character, he is still clearly enthralled by portraying the man that made his career. But he has never been able to take Balboa where Coogler allows him to go. Owning the weight of the character's history and running with it, Stallone has never shown this kind of craft or vulnerability. While Jordan's performance is a massive leap forward to establish him as a major star, Stallone's work takes a similar long stride for forcing us to forget the limitations we had accepted him to have. This is a graceful and precise performance, channeling as much believable poignancy as any Best Supporting Actor candidate this year. For all of the expected notes the movie strikes, he is consistently surprising, even if it is because we have expected less from him.

An overall crowd-pleaser that hits both fresh and standard notes, Creed is still worthwhile for diving into male dominant pathos without the overt macho BS so overly present in the genre. Even if it doesn't kickstart the Rocky franchise, it serves as an entertaining platform for a future heavyweight director and superstar, with an unanticipated nuanced performance from Stallone.

Grade: B-

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Reader Comments (13)

This might be all right, should be a hit, and I wish Michael B. Jordan all the best,
BUT CAN WE PLEASE, for the love of all that is good and pure, put a stop right now to the Sylvester Stallone Oscar conversation.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Great review, Chris!

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLouis

Mike in Canada you have not seen the movie. Not fair to say Sly is incapable of a nomination worthy performance.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful: And yet I suspect it. And a season-long welcome-back-Sly-we-missed-you narrative will be hard for me to stomach.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Cosign Mike in Canada. For God's sake, the Academy bypassed comeback nods for Hanks and Redford 2 years ago.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

"Stallone has never shown this kind of craft or vulnerability"

Of course he has, watch Copland, First Blood, Rocky 1, 2 or Rocky Balboa.
He's always been a much better actor than given credit for, because a lot of critics' narrow vision of film. Basically for some people, Stallone can't be good, because he makes mostly action films. How simplistic.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIrons

Seems a likely candidate,i like mid 90's Stallone best.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

"If Fruitvale showed us anything about Ryan Coogler's potential, it was that" HE SHOULD NEVER WRITE DIALOGUE EVER AGAIN.

EVER.

AGAIN.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Sorry, Mike, but I'm hearing/reading that conversation everywhere. I feel you, but such is life.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Irons - I agree he's been compelling in the past, but this performance is something beyond what he's done before and that's exciting!

I was a bit perplexed on some of the awards talk for Stallone before I saw it, but I think he delivers. We don't always get to see screen legends display new sides this far into their career and that should always be celebrated.

November 23, 2015 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I'm not gonna lie. Sly Stallone's bare ass and steamy sex scene with Sharon Stone in The Specialist was one of those childhood moments in the 90's that made me realize I was gay.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJase

Tessa Thompson is so-o-o beautiful. I'm obsessed.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Right now, with glowing reviews praising Stallone, he's locked for a nom. The win will depend on how loved the film is, nominations time. He may end up winning (more than possible, even likely), or just follow the destiny of Burt Reynolds or Eddie Murphy, when they finally got the nom.

So far, I'd say he wins. Specially since, almost 40 years after Rocky, it seems a bit puzzling they awarded it with Oscars and didn't reserve one for its soul and heart, who had a double nomination for writing and acting.

So, he's the frontrunner, let's see how he handles the campaigning and, if my suspictions are proven true, Kurt Rusell might be the stand out of "The Hateful 8" and becomes one of Sly's biggest syphooners.

November 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

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