After Southpaw I figured I was done with sports movies. After all, I don’t watch any in my own life and boxing, of all the great sports, seemed like the one I’m least likely to get into. Then there was Creed. A film I knew had Michael B. Jordan, who is likable and reliable, as well as Tessa Thompson. Someone who, ultimately, was what got me to see this movie on a rainy Tuesday night. For with this article from Shadow and Act, I figured maybe this boxing film got more to it than another reason for Sylvester Stallone to make some money off the Rocky franchise.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
Abandoned, scared and vulnerable, and perhaps feeling unloved. One could argue that those adjectives fit how one could describe Adonis Johnson-Creed (Michael B. Jordan) when we first meet him. Though, with time, what we really learn is he has something to prove. Be it prove that he is his own man, his father’s son or, most of all, that he deserves to be loved.
Now, love isn’t anything new to boxing films, after all, usually there is a love interest in any sports movie you watch, but Adonis’ love is split 4 ways. The first, and most obvious, is boxing. For not only does it connect him to his dad, but also it has saved him from quite a few ass whippings; the 2nd would be for his adopted mom Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who found him in a juvenile facility, after his biological mom passed, and raised him as if he wasn’t the child of her husband’s affair; the 3rd love of Adonis’ life is the one and only Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). A man who, with hesitation, takes to the kid of his old friend, and finds the kid giving him one last reason to step anywhere near a ring, much less spend more time on this earth after losing his wife, his best friend, and pretty much having no one know him, but just his legendary career.
Lastly, and perhaps the most interesting love of Adonis’ life, strangely is Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his love interest. Someone who is a musician slowly losing her hearing, an around the way girl, but doesn’t fully fit your usual action/ sports movie love interest archetype. She, unlike many of those she can be compared to, has a life of her own, problems of her own, and isn’t so much an accessory to Adonis as she is someone who compliments him. But, this movie isn’t about them, it is about boxing. Something Adonis’ without much formal training, seems to be good at. However, his underground fights in Mexico don’t compare to professional fights from Philly to the UK, and that is where we learn whether the Creed bloodline lives strong, or if perhaps, to keep from embarrassing Apollo, maybe he should just stick to the Johnson surname.
Though the Shadow and Act article overhyped her place in the film, it is hard to deny that Tessa Thompson, and her part in the film, definitely brought on the type of subplot where if their careers were equally focused, and their relationship more front and center, the movie would still be good. Reason being, from the tone shift due to her going deaf, her style, and how she interacts with Adonis, all of this gives almost 90s Black romance vibes. To the point, you can only hope that somewhere in Thompson’s career she does a good Black romance movie, with the type of characters that the Shadow and Act article points out.
When it comes to B. Jordan, it’s hard to not say that he put on one hell of a performance. If only because, unlike with Southpaw, he had to present a character who didn’t necessarily come from nothing, and had to get you to care about them. For while he may have been introduced to us as a juvenile delinquent, from there we see him in a suit, doing underground fights, and living in a mansion. Thus making your usual rags to riches story completely invalid and making him becoming someone to root for an uphill battle. Yet, it is watching him trying to become his own man, dealing with the emotional tax of getting close to people, and then dealing with them either shutting him out or giving up, which brings you in. Take for example him calling Rocky, after barely knowing him, “unc.” With that you see him wanting to build a relationship, forge a family he found and created, as opposed to simply being a part of a family out of pity and because, in my thoughts, Mary Anne found the best way to deal with her husband’s death would be raising his son. Especially since it seems she didn’t have any children of her own.
Let it be known, when it comes to Stallone, I was a bit surprised. Though I should note, it was mostly because the bar was low. After all, when it comes to action stars, often your view of them is set in stone like comedians. They exploit the one shtick they have all their career, and then when they seemingly are going to switch up, you don’t take them seriously. Yet in this film, while Stallone I don’t think gave something Oscar worthy, as others have said, he certainly presents the idea that if he wanted to challenge himself and do more dramatic roles, he might just be capable.
To be completely honest, with us not getting to see Adonis’ rise, nor get to see him struggle in official fights, like you may see in Southpaw, it made it hard, at first, to get into that side of the character. Mostly because you aren’t given the sense that he may actually lose. Then, on top of that, we only see 2 official fights. The first one is all about one of Rocky’s old friend’s ego, and then the 2nd official fight is for a championship. Which, to me, due to Adonis’ not having the usual struggle, just made it seem like how it seemed to everyone within the film: His name is what got him to the top, and he didn’t belong there. And, speaking for myself, as much as I liked Adonis outside the ring, I would have been so pissed if he beat ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) like he did Leo ‘The Lion’ Sporino (Gabe Rosado).
On The Fence
Being that I never saw a Rocky film in my life, it became sort of weird when they made references to past films. Granted, nothing was made into such a big deal it seemed like you have to be a Rocky fan to get it but, at the same time, I did feel almost as if not seeing the Rocky movies made some of Stallone’s seems just a bit less impactful. Hell, since I didn’t even get to see the Apollo Creed fight either, perhaps it also took away from my impression of Adonis as well.
Final Thought(s): Worth Seeing
This isn’t the type of movie which may turn you into a boxing fan, but I do think it does help build up the resume for all involved. For Stallone, it proves he can do more than be an action hero star who doesn’t know when to put his guns or fists away; for Jordan, it continues to show that whether you want to pigeonholed him into being the next great Black actor, or include him amongst the upcoming youth in Hollywood, either way, he deserves to be at the tip of your tongue; lastly, with Thompson, she, as a handful of actresses do, took someone who could have been a simple, forgettable, role, and made them into something. Which could perhaps be credited to the writers, but if you dare deny that Thompson took this character and made her more than the words and description they thought of, you’d be a fool.
Which, in total, is why I’m saying this is Worth Seeing. This is the type of film which gets a reaction out of you. It isn’t you just watching men fight, a legend sort of come out of retirement, nor another franchise being mooched off for cash. In some form or fashion, you can see someone had something to say, something to depict, here. Something beyond Creed’s son taking up Rocky’s mantle and starting a new sports franchise, they wanted to show all sides to that young man. The pain of abandonment, the need for acceptance, love, and family and, most of all, recognition. For at the end of the day, nothing about this film is about Adonis winning a title, it’s about winning love and respect, and firmly having a sense of self. Something which not a lot of movies, especially featuring fighting and action, really pursue.