I tend to be a bit of a snob when it comes to pop culture. I know that’s not something that I should be proud of, and I am working on it… But sometimes I just can’t help it. When my friends listen to Fetty Wap or Young Thug, I will adamantly express my disapproval as I try to turn them on to Sufjan Stevens or Theory Hazit (whom they do not like at all… It’s almost like music is subjective or something). When I hear someone talk about The Big Bang Theory or The Blacklist, I laugh and tell them to watch Arrested Development or The Wire instead. And when it comes to movies (it took every ounce of strength to not say films just now), I much prefer going to see art-house/indie flicks by myself to watching mindless action blockbusters with a group of friends. There is, however, one exception to this rule: I almost always love sports movies, no matter how formulaic and predictable they are. I love Glory Road, Coach Carter, and even Like Mike, even though I know they are not technically great (or even good) films. So, if Creed happened to be another by-the-numbers boxing movie, I probably still would have enjoyed it immensely. Thankfully, it provides more than just cheap underdog victories and corny training montages — it is genuinely emotionally affecting.
This should come as no surprise to fans of Michael B. Jordan (this scene from The Wire still messes me up to this day) and Ryan Coogler (not this Koogler, unfortunately), who teamed up for the terrific and devastating Fruitvale Station a couple of years ago. In Creed, Coogler manages to somehow make old boxing movie tropes feel fresh and exciting. Take the various training scenes, for example. We have seen this exact thing done dozens of times, but the determination in Jordan’s eyes, captured by Coogler’s grounded yet triumphant direction, just feels important. When Adonis runs through the streets of Philadelphia and celebrates outside Rocky Balboa’s house, you can’t help but cheer right along with him. The fight scenes themselves are fantastic as well. The first full fight, shot in one take, really captures the essence of a hard-fought boxing match. Coogler literally doesn’t pull any punches for five straight minutes, and by the end, the viewer is as exhausted as Adonis. The final fight is a thing of beauty, taking us on an emotional journey by switching back and forth between HBO broadcast-style footage and close-up, slow-mo shots. The editing in this scene is brilliant, making quick cuts when necessary, but lingering long enough to make each and every punch felt by the audience.
The emotional subplots of this film add depth to the characters, while not taking away the focus from the action. Bianca is losing her hearing, Rocky is sick, Adonis had a rough childhood due to his father’s death and is seeking to make a name for himself. None of these things feel forced or out of place, and they all serve a singular purpose. That is an incredible feat to pull off. People don’t go to boxing movies to see people sick and dying; they go to see boxing. But if this emotional depth wasn’t there, the fights wouldn’t mean nearly as much. And if these plots were thrown together carelessly, they would feel pointless and melodramatic. But Coogler and all of the actors managed to sell every aspect of this story, and I, along with everyone in my theater, was completely invested throughout.
Creed perfectly combines my love of sports movies with my appreciation for artistic filmmaking. Throw in three Wire alum (Michael B. Jordan, Wood Harris, and Brian Anthony Wilson) and music from The Roots, Nas, and Ludwig Göransson, and I am one happy moviegoer. In terms of pure enjoyment, this is right up there with Mad Max: Fury Road as my favorite movie of the year. Once I consider everything else that there is to think about when critiquing movies, I imagine this will probably only land somewhere in my top 15, but it is without a doubt one of the best films of the year, and I am now desperately hoping for a full-on Creed franchise.
4 / 5