Life is getting in the way of my reviews... I'll get to KRAMPUS tomorrow but I have some catching up to do!
CREED, of course, is the latest branch of the ROCKY saga. And as unfair as it would be to call it ROCKY VII, I'm the old-school guy who was there from the beginning and still watches the show from the perspective of Rocky Balboa. I've always enjoyed the series, and if there's one character Sylvester Stallone has perfected, that's the one. I was with it even when the critics started fading out around the time of III, and while I thought IV was a pure 80s comic book fantasy (and I was routinely making wisecracks about Stallone at the time) it certainly pushed the 80s comic book buttons effectively. I'm the lonely soul who appreciated V for bringing things back down to earth, but ROCKY BALBOA was certainly the superior of those two films (my affection for Stallone's boxing movies did NOT extend to my ever seeing GRUDGE MATCH, however).
Now comes CREED, which Stallone neither wrote nor directed, but snapped up all the same thanks to the strength of writer/director Ryan Coogler. You probably know the story already, so I'll be brief... Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is rescued from a life of foster homes and juvenile institutions by the widow of Apollo Creed himself (Phylicia Rashad), who identifies Adonis as the illegitimate son of the late champion. He's given the opportunity to thrive in a white-collar career, but his heart isn't in it, and his innate belligerence forces him to seek a career as a professional fighter. Much to his surprise, he finds that he isn't truly ready to become a contender, and his quest for proper training leads him to the doorstep of...
Adonis eventually forges bonds with both his new trainer (who's once again all but alone in the world--the script announces that Paulie is now deceased but allows Rocky Jr. to enjoy a separate life in Canada out of respect to the late Sage Stallone) and the young singer (Tessa Thompson) who shares his apartment complex--naturally, both have demons of their own with which to contend. Meanwhile, a major opportunity arises when a bloodthirsty light-heavyweight champion (Tony Bellew as 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan) is informed he has only one last chance to do right by his family before facing a seven-year prison stretch. Adonis would much rather make it on his own name (thanks to the potential embarrassment he could deal to his father's legacy), but hard choices must be made.
CREED is pure formula, but that's scarcely a complaint--it's formula done right. It's true that some of the crises on the way to the final fight seem obligatory, but the script manages to embrace them deftly without allowing them to dominate inappropriately. Jordan has plenty of charisma and physical skills to display, Thompson is appropriately charming and determined, and Bellew is more than worthy as the fearsome giant in need of slaying (or at least an attitude adjustment)--though I have to admit that during his ring entrance I was half expecting the Undertaker to pop up. I don't quite see CREED as Best Picture material--however, I'll happily join the consensus and say that I won't be surprised at all to see Stallone get a Supporting Actor nod--after all, it's the first ROCKY film in which he doesn't participate in a punch-out of any kind, and his character shines whether bemused at a world that's passing him by ("What cloud?") or sharing what he knows best in classic fashion with his hungry protege. CREED is perfectly calculated to appeal to veterans and newcomers alike and comes unhesitatingly recommended.
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