The Film: Creed
The Pitch: Look, it’s basically Rocky VII, but Sly lets the youngsters do all the fighting while he sits back and acts like a fucking elder statesman.
Number of Nominations: One
Which Category? Best Supporting Actor
Will it Win? Sylvester Stallone is most definitely a sentimental choice, reprising his Rocky Balboa role yet again, this time mentoring his old friend Apollo Creed’s son. And he’s surprisingly affecting as the old champ: weary, slow, ailing. I’ll be surprised, however, if he wins. Mark Ruffalo seem certain to take the statue with a very Oscar-baity performance in Spotlight.
More important, though, is Stallone’s track record. With the honourable exception of his very nice turn as a decent man surrounded by crooks in Copland, his career has been marked by lazy performances in shitty films. The Oscars are supposed to be about a single film, not a filmmaker’s career, but it’s naive to think that the Academy is just going to forget garbage like The Expendables and innumerable Rambo movies, not to mention innumerable Rocky movies.
In other words, Stallone isn’t owed an Oscar.
Stallone takes a backseat to Michael B. Jordan as Adonis, Apollo’s son (yes, it’s as subtle a film as you’d expect) who’s always been a scrapper, and who wants to prove to the world that he’s more than just a famous name. In fact, for most of the film, he goes by Johnson, his mother’s name, and doesn’t want anyone to know who his dad was. Except for Rocky, of course. Adonis moves to Philadelphia to find the retired boxer in the hopes that he will train him.
Creed is not a good film. It is essentially a reworking of the original Rocky, slightly retooled and updated for the 21st century. The script is by the numbers, and it includes every possible cliche that this sort of movie has (including, of course, a training montage, which the original film probably invented). There’s a villainous champion boxer (played rather menacingly and convincingly by real-life boxer Tony Bellew) and his equally oily manager. Adonis has had a troubled childhood and spent time in juvenile detention, where of course, he gets into fights (I was hanging on for Spencer Tracy or Pat O’Brien to show up and teach the boys some boxing skills). Adonis gets himself a beautiful girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who lives, where else, downstairs from him (they meet when he bangs on her door because her music is too loud). And why is her music too loud? Well, she’s an aspiring singer, but – oh, the humanity – she has progressive hearing loss, so her career, if it ever happens, might be short-lived … just as Creed’s boxing career will be short-lived (he might die in the ring just like his old man did). And then Rocky gets ill, just like his old coach Mickey did way back when.
Death hangs over much of the film, actually. Rocky is pretty much alone. Mickey’s dead. Adrian is dead. Paulie is dead. Didn’t Rocky have a dog? Well, it appears to be dead as well (although there is a turtle, just one of many shout-outs to the early films). Creed, actually, is a pretty tired film.
The film has a few high points, though, beginning with Jordan, who has the looks, physique and charisma of a movie star-in-waiting. The character is a cliche, but his performance isn’t. Then there’s Philadelphia, which owes Stallone a lot for all the tourists he’s helped bring there. There is a lot of local colour in Creed, and a lot of local faces, very few of of whom are actors, but who help bring a certain authenticity to an otherwise uninteresting story. It is to the film’s credit that it finds room and time for some of the city’s less salubrious districts, and it makes sense (professional boxers seldom grow up in the suburbs).
The big fight is pretty much a blow-by-blow recreation of the finale of the original film (pun intended). It doesn’t happen in Philly, though, perhaps because the filmmakers were concerned it would be too on the nose. Instead, it takes place across the Atlantic in Liverpool – at Goodison Park, no less, where the underdog Creed takes on the champion. There is blood, sweat and tears.
Fans of the franchise will no doubt appreciate all the little nods in Creed, including of course the famous ascent of the steps and the brief inclusion of the original film’s triumphant score.
But here’s the problem: Rocky, for all its standard story elements and stock characters, is a good movie. Actually, it’s a great movie. Although Creed does try to inject some excitement at times, it feels like less of a sequel or even a quasi-sequel to Rocky, and more of a pastiche that pays its dues to the original at every turn. Creed is basically the cheesy tribute band of movies.
Verdict: Three Southpaws out of Five