Review: Creed is formulaic, but that’s what makes it work

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Caption: Creed movie poster. Source: Photo by Warner Bros. / Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

Jessica Xing

Creed is a movie that fits into a bigger universe, a series of films acted, written and directed by  Sylvester Stallone. The brutal boxing series Rocky has always been about beating the odds and creating your own legacy one punch at a time — so, on Nov. 25th, when Creed opened in box office exactly forty years after Rocky first hit theaters, people got to hang onto that idea one more time.

The movie did not reinvent Rocky — nor did it subvert or deconstruct any of the hyper-masculine tropes that usually come with boxing or fighting movies. But instead, it recaptures what everyone loved in the very first Rocky: the fight scenes and the unstoppable determination. Michael B. Jordan plays the relatable underdog, just like Sylvester Stallone did in the very first one. The film uses the classic Rocky formula to claw its own way into cinema. Just as Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed is trying to be his own man separate from his father — Rocky’s old rival and boxing champion Apollo Creed — Creed manages to find its own place in the movie world by using the Rocky namesake.

Caption: Creed movie poster. Source: Photo by Warner Bros. / Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

Caption: Creed movie poster. Source: Photo by Warner Bros. / Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

The two main characters, Donnie and Rocky, (Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone) are what really hold the movie together. Right now, Stallone is the shadow of the action star he used to be. In the past  he was Rocky, a hulking mass of a man, but ever since then he’s sort of faded away into obscurity — starring in action movies that barely score anything in the box office. But in Creed, Stallone fits right back into the role that made him famous. He embodies Rocky’s weariness and loneliness, a far cry from the powerhouse he used to be in the first movie. But Stallone’s slightly muted and age-old portrayal of Rocky makes his performance really hit home on screen. It’s shown through small moments where he is just sitting down, reading a newspaper while timing Donnie’s training, or in big moments when he reveals how resentful Rocky is of his past. Stallone delivers the frustration Rocky feels when he gestures to the walls of old newspaper clippings — old matches, old titles he once held. Donnie can change, he can make his own legacy, while Rocky is permanently tied to his.

Michael B. Jordan, contrasting Stallone, is a young, rising star in Hollywood. He portrays Donnie’s drive, ambition. Donnie wants to grow and become someone better than the legend of a man his father once was, and unlike Rocky, he has time and the unrelenting energy to actually change his life. While Donnie does fall into some masculine archetypes, such as the classic “man punching his way through his anger rather than dealing with it” cliche, Jordan portrays Donnie with a sense of vulnerability that comes with, well, youth. Donnie is angry and resentful: resentful at how the world forces him to climb for this pedestal and angry at his father for leaving him with no place to belong. Jordan portrays Donnie’s fear of not belonging and manages to make his journey relatable to audiences — despite the by-the-book character mold of the classic underdog.

Creed definitely delivered on the boxing scenes. It is a movie in the Rocky franchise, so the fight scenes need to be impeccable. The camera work is tight and the fight scenes are brutal, with bones cracking, blood being spilt in every which direction. The boxing matches are so realistic and gruesome it really puts the audience on the edge of their seat,especially during the last match.

Caption: Rocky giving Donnie a pep talk before one of his first professional matches. (Photo by Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros. / Metro Goldwyn-Mayer)

Caption: Rocky giving Donnie a pep talk before one of his first professional matches. (Photo by Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros. / Metro Goldwyn-Mayer)

In the end, Creed does follow the classic Rocky formula, but what could’ve been a tired attempt at revitalizing a franchise actually ends up as  a truly inspiring, heartfelt movie. The fight scenes and Stallone and Jordan’s portrayal of their characters manage to recapture the old Rocky magic that made people fall in love with the franchise forty years ago.