I’ve lost count of the boxing movies I haven’t seen. I didn’t see that Jake Gyllenhaal one, didn’t come close to watching that Mark Wahlberg one, and actively avoided that Russell Crowe one. A typical exchange between bright young things in Hollywood must go something like “you done your boxing film yet?” “Next year” “What plot you got?” “Troubled home life, boxing is his salvation”. Rocky and Raging Bull didn’t invent this genre, but they have a lot to answer for. They represent the two main approaches – boxing as entertainment or boxing as backdrop to troubled life.
Creed doesn’t dodge (duck, weave, cover) any of the usual boxing cliches. But it handles them well. There are several elements of this film that I liked a lot:
- The relationships between Rocky and Adonis, and between Adonis and Bianca are given the right amount of emotional shade and credibility.
- The performances of all three leads are believable and edge away from the desperate need to be street tough that seems to draw so many actors to boxing movies.
- There are some nice cinematic flourishes – the entrance into the ring of the big fight and the recreation of the running scene with motorbikes are memorable and tread the line between rousing melodrama and cliche expertly.
- The opponent, Ricky Conlan is a Scouser. The fight takes place in Goodison Park. This is so down to earth, a deliberate alternative to the Drago type cartoon fighters from previous Rocky movies.
- The music motif. The old Rocky tune is repeated as subtle background music, and gradually given further prominence. The recognition of an old friend it drags some of the emotional appeal the audience might hold for the early Rocky movies while maintaining the independence of this film in its own right.
But ultimately it is a boxing film. The narrative arc of such films is always in plain sight – the hungry outsider, tribulations in training, the fight denoument. Sometimes they win the final fight, often they lose, but by losing, you know, really win in the whole boxing as metaphor for manly struggle thing. In the Rocky-Raging Bull dichotomy, Creed comes down more on the entertainment side, which is actually refreshing to see, but it also has enough substance to it that you care enough about the person getting punched several hundred times. Like Adonis Creed himself struggling to demonstrate he is both worthy of the legacy he carries and an individual in his own right, the film Creed stands well on its own. It might even be the best of the bunch. But just as Adonis is told he is creating his own legacy, I guess that means we are in for Creed 2, 3, 4. Son of Drago may yet make an appearance.