July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
You should not reinvent the wheel, or so the saying goes. But sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered.
Pop culture seems to be dominated by a stunning absence of creativity, with a never-ending onslaught of uninspired movies catering to an army of consumers with little appetite for substance and easily impressed by flashy effects, CGI, and 3D; a trifecta of errors that almost never fail to ruin a movie for those of us who still view cinema as the art of story-telling. Remakes and sequels, “re-imagined” and regurgitated to woo a new generation of fans based on tried and true formulas, with plot lines that constitute little more than a loose arrangement of product placement, merchandising tie-ins, and sponsorship opportunities.
Perhaps no man knows more about milking every last drop of a formula than Sylvester Stallone; a man who may not have invented the sequel, but who certainly has perfected the art with movie franchises such as Rambo and The Expendables. Last week, nearly 40 years after the original 1976 release of Stallone’s perhaps greatest critical and commercial hit, Rocky, he returns in the role of Rocky Balboa in the movie “Creed.”
And although Creed may have replicated aspects of the original, it is anything but a regurgitated formula. Creed has plenty of its own flavor, often bitter-sweet, but made well enough to force this humble reviewer to admit that it brought tears to his eyes. I was expecting a bit of nostalgia and entertainment worth the matinee price I paid to watch yet another installment of the Rocky saga. Instead I found myself absorbed by the character-driven, multifaceted story revolving around a father-figure whose days of glory, now long gone, came at the cost of having lost everyone he has loved, and a young man in search of a mentor, driven to fight by a subdued, but constant rage that burns at the core of his existence. Much like the original Rocky, it is an underdog story where an unknown fighter finds love while getting an unprecedented shot at an unbeatable champion. But if anything, this has the feel of an homage to the great film that started it all. The parallels are intentional and ultimately serve to elevate Creed as a movie that, while fitting perfectly into the mold of the Rocky franchise, stands equally well as a masterpiece in its own right.
Creed does a superb job of tying in the story of a new hero, Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis, with the fictional universe that fans of the prior Rocky movies have come to know and love. We meet Adonis as a child, seemingly destined for an untimely and no doubt tragic end as a statistic in the juvenile justice system. He is rescued from his fate by the unlikely intervention of Apollo’s widow, who plucks Donny (as he calls himself) from the clutches of the unforgiving system and grooms him into a young man on a path toward corporate success, paved by Apollo’s championship fortune. Yet beneath the well-groomed facade, Donny secretly is drawn toward the world of fighting, and he finds an outlet in the shady boxing rings of Tijuana, where he competes with no real training or guidance. Eventually, Adonis finds his way to the greatest rival, best friend, sparring partner, and cornerman of the father he never knew, to get the training and mentorship he needs to channel his rage to productive use and mold his raw natural talent into the refined skill of a professional.
The fight sequences are well choreographed and wonderfully filmed. The audience is pulled into the ring along with the fighters, experiencing the adrenaline pumping majestic brutality of the sweet science blow-by-blow. More so than any of the prior Rocky movies, Creed paints a realistic picture of what a fight feels like in the ring. Of course, there is plenty of room for dramatic license and hyperbole, but it is all with a view toward expressing how a fight feels, as opposed to presenting an exact replica. It is just about as close as the casual fight fan will ever come to being in the ring, and even those who know what combat in a squared circle (or cage) feels like will be able to relate.
But Creed does not simply glorify pugilism without a few sobering reminders that seem especially relevant in light of the relatively recent publication of information about the risks of concussions and the heavy toll professional athletes often pay in pursuit of their vocations. Indeed, one of the previews before Creed was for the movie “Concussion,” which recounts the true story of how the issue of mental health complications and even suicide at alarmingly high rates among retired NFL players came to light. This is evidence enough that the public is learning more and more about the risks of head trauma in sports. In Creed, we are again and again reminded that Donny’s father Apollo died in the ring, with Rocky watching from the corner. Donny’s stepmother also paints a graphic picture of a decrepit Apollo often too weak to look after his own bodily functions, as a behind-the-scenes insight into the reality of the effects of fighting on fighters and their families, to contrast with the superficial images of glory promoted for public consumption.
But Creed is more than just a movie about fighting and overcoming the odds. This story will play equally well with fans of the original (and greatest) Rocky, as well as a new audience who may not have experienced the phenomenon of the ultimate underdog story in its original version. It is a movie about a son both searching for a father he never had while also seeking to step out of his shadow; about a father who has lost his family, including his own son, who we learn moved away to put a comfortable distance between son and father’s reputation; and about complex relationships forged by blood – sometimes through birth, sometimes through combat. It is about the search for identity, and about the bonds with those who help define who we are.
Perhaps as a fight fan and former athlete, not to mention a fan of the Rocky movies, I am a bit biased. There may be something to that, but that’s not the whole story. Creed is a good movie. Go see it for yourself, and see what you think.