Movie Review: Creed

In the Rocky franchise mythos, Apollo Creed is the greatest boxer ever but his legend is always eclipsed by the titular “nonentity”, a slow poke, self-effacing Italian stallion who made boxing good by going the rounds with champion legend in the original Rocky and besting him in the sequel.

Creed is the 7th installment in the franchise and the first not to have Stallone’s imprimatur as writer and also the first not to have Rocky in its title.

What stood out for me in Creed was Stallone’s performance. He and Schwarzenegger tag-teamed 80s cinema as its biggest action stars with their uber-ripped muscles and one-man army shtick. The downside of that shtick was that it didn’t require acting chops to pull off. Consequently, whilst their movies mangled box office records; they didn’t rack up any awards for acting abilities.

In the 90s, perhaps in realization that his days as action hero were drawing to an end, Stallone tried his hands at projects that required actual acting talent instead of beefcake guns ahoy. This effort yielded the John Landis-directed 1991 comedy Oscar (panned by critics but which remains one of my favourite Stallone movies) and James Mangold’s 1997 Copland (which earned him acting praise by critics).

In Creed, Rocky has grown from the affable “Yo Adrian” underdog to the still affable avuncular underdog trainer. The passing years, the blows in the ring the loss of Mickey, Adrian, Paulie and Apollo Creed have all taken a toll on him and slowed him down even more. Retired to running a restaurant named after Adrian, he was back to living in the shadows he always seemed more at home with.

Stallone played the aged Balboa with the right amount of restraint and ennui the character needed without going overboard. This installment was as much about passing the boxing torch to Michael B. Jordan’s Creed spawn, Adonis, as it was about sending Balboa off into the sunset. But try as much as he did to stay out of the way to let Jordan’s Adonis shine in the spot light, it was Stallone’s understated Balboa that captivated my attention.

In the sporting world, life for the champ outside the glitz and glamour of the spotlight is depressingly different. This much you see in John Voight’s The Champ, Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler and Stallone and Robert De Niro’s Grudge Match.

In Creed it was no different for Balboa. However, you could tell from Stallone’s Balboa that his seeming sad and depressed looking later years was not as a result of a yearning for the highs of the years in the spotlight but the loneliness of the loss of the people who brought meaning to the simple life he preferred.

Creed introduces us to a new boxing generation in Adonis Creed but in reality, it was a fitting denouement to the story of the aging Balboa as he prepares to walk into the sunset. News of a sequel set for release in November 2017 suggests that final walk just might tarry on for a bit but as Balboa observes after the long walk up the “Rocky steps” to take in the view of Philadelphia one last time, it’s not bad at all, not bad at all. 7/10

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