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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Creed movie review: the boxing ring of truth

Creed green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Feels natural and organic, not forced by the dictates of movie franchises. A smart, engaging, unsentimental portrait of male friendship and male emotion.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s been nine years since the stunningly good Rocky Balboa, which seemed to be a fitting ending of the story of the Philadelphia boxer. Creed finds a satisfying new chapter in Rocky’s tale — one that feels natural and organic, not forced by the dictates of movie franchises — by having him step out of the spotlight in favor of a hungry young fighter, Donnie Johnson, who comes to the still-famous ex-champ to beg him for training help. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone: The Expendables 3) lets himself be drawn in because Donnie is, in fact, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan: Fantastic Four), son of his rival turned friend Apollo (his very first pro opponent, in the original Rocky film).

Writer (with newcomer Aaron Covington) and director Ryan Coogler’s followup to his moving first film, Fruitvale Station, is a smart, engaging, unsentimental portrait of male friendship and male emotion, bursting with true tenderness (Stallone and Jordan are very good) and unafraid to actually confront men’s ways of dealing with feelings — like anger! — they don’t know how to cope with instead of simply spraying testosterone across the screen, like how many movies accidentally deal with masculine emotional inarticulateness. (Women get short shrift, of course; it’s disappointing to see that the fantastic Tessa Thompson has been demoted from the badass rage machine of Dear White People to the girlfriend sidekick here.)

There’s also a sharp undercurrent exploring how boxers get mythologized by the sports press and how the big business of boxing gets marketed not as man versus man but one man’s story versus another man’s story. Creed renders that as a cheap, if effective, manipulation of the reality, the principle that is always at the heart of the best movies about sports: this isn’t about throwing a punch (or hitting a ball, etc) but about life. Making your way in the world is a fight. Being true to yourself is a fight. Surviving is a fight.

As Rocky’s pep talk to Donnie goes, in the ring it’s “you against you; he’s just in the way.” I don’t even like boxing — I find it a brutal display — but there is persuasive power in Creed to make even skeptics like me believe that unconditionally.

see also:
Rocky (review)
Rocky Balboa (review)
Creed II movie review: a bout of familiarity

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Creed for its representation of girls and women.

green light 4 stars

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Creed (2015) | directed by Ryan Coogler
US/Can release: Nov 25 2015
UK/Ire release: Jan 15 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, infrequent strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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