The Three Main Problems With Creed
Have you ever had the eerie realization that you were being directly marketed to? Have you ever watched a commercial for light beer featuring 15 urban youths in knockoff flannels and Knockaround sunglasses dancing to the sounds of Los Campesinos and realize that an executive has looked into the zeitgeist and found your heart? When you heard about the Netflix and Chill button were you momentarily elated and then terrified at how your elation is because it’s being felt by millions of other 20/30 somethings?
Creed feels like that, after you let it sit in your brain for a couple of minutes. It’s not Rocky for millennials; it’s a millennial boxing movie, featuring Rocky Balboa. Let me explain:
For starters, Adonis himself is a light-heavyweight. Why? Well, aside from the fact that no one really knew how to make Michael B. Jordan beef up to the size of mahogany god Carl Weathers without destroying his endocrine system, heavyweights aren’t popular anymore. Today, heavyweight fights are one-sided, kind of boring, without a savior and, on top of it all, dominated by dudes who aren’t even from the Americas. We haven’t had a great, tyrannical heavyweight champ since Tyson; we haven’t had a likable, non-Ukrainian heavyweight since Lennox Lewis. The past years have been dominated by Wladimir Klitschko; the future is to be dominated by Chinese-Ivan-Drago Taishan Dong.
The best pound-for-pound boxers — and arguably some of the most winsome — are Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, and Miguel Cotto, who are all light-to-middleweight fighters. They’re skinny looking, ripped dudes, not unlike our new hero. Adonis Creed himself is a sign-of-the-times athletic avatar, a dancey, skinny boxer who, on one occasion, is seen wearing those high-altitude masks while he runs on a treadmill at, presumably, Philly altitude. It looks cool, the kids love it, so why not?
In Rocky, we’re treated to a tomato-can boxer who, through folksy training and wacky happenstance, goes deep against the greatest boxer in the world. This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that they’re both heavyweights, and that at the time of the original movie, a boxer like Apollo Creed was comparable to George Foreman, Joe Frazier, or Muhammad Ali. Bumbling bum-slash-dope Rocky going toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champion of the world during the age of undeniable heavyweight juggernauts is an uplifting miracle. Creed, early on in the film, is shown to be an excellent, fast and efficient boxer in a division with a lot of parity. It’s just not as engaging, even though it’s designed to appeal to us cool kids.
What do we love about Rocky? Why did we stick with him even after there was a movie about him winning the Cold War? Why were we on board when they tried to sell us on a 60-something Balboa going back to fight, uh, Mason “The Line” Dixon?
Because Rocky is a tremendously flawed character and succeeds in spite of himself. There’s no marketing aspect to the original Rocky; if there had been, Rocky would have been another loud-mouthed, world-fighting heavyweight out to prove that he was the greatest in the world. That was the mode of fighters back then, and hell if it wasn’t cool. But no, Rocky himself ran contra to everything heavyweight fighter. Rocky was tender and gullible — and in Creed, remains so — and is so amazingly dopey that it can kind of be proposed that if he weren’t so big and good at punching he’d be a ward of the state. We stuck with Rocky through a pretty awful movie series because he had a good heart and because he worked to perfect his singular talent, because that’s the kind of guy we all want to see succeed. Rocky never delivers a timeless paean like Drago or Creed, because Rocky can’t.
Because he’s an idiot.
Adonis, as much as I enjoyed Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal, is such a calculated and occasionally milquetoast character that it’s hard to imagine the future of the Creed series could hinge on him going solo. His background is terribly precooked and annoyingly digestible: he’s a punchy, abandoned latchkey kid in the first couple of minutes of the movie, which is exciting because the audience thinks they’re getting another Rocky — someone who’s got nothing else in their life but their fists. Adonis is then picked up from juvie by his mother — long story, see the movie — and whisked away to a life of luxury as the inheritor of the Apollo Creed zillions. As such, Adonis is an educated, well-mannered, privileged white-collar shmo; he even quits his junior-executive job to go pursue his boxing dreams, like only a rich kid could. Any fight found in the character in the first 10 minutes of the movie is gone; instead we have a kind-of-charming, barely excitable main character whose pre-packaged tough life is a plot device (“he likes to fight”) or a marketing masterstroke (“let’s make him more available to urban youth”).
Spoiler: Our young hero has a beautiful girlfriend named Bianca. She is a musician. And then she gets mad at him. And then they make up.
It should go without saying that, since this a franchise for millennials, she is a trip-hop artist or whatever. She and Adonis have a stupid meet-cute. Things seem bad for 20 minutes between them and then they are good. While Tessa Thompson gives a very engaging turn as Bianca, their romance is as boring as it is unessential to the plot; if the romance were extricated from the movie, we’d still have a very fun boxing movie starring a weirdly asexual boxer.
Seems innocuous, but for a movie that tries to mirror Rocky, a blase, third-string romance is an insult. Bianca is wedged in in Creed, and she is so modern and cool that I don’t think I could have a beer with her without her criticizing my opinion on IPA’s. Great.
Rocky isn’t Rocky without Adrian. Adrian herself made the first movie, and their love defined the series. She’s mousy and introverted where Balboa is goofy and folksy, and that somehow adds up to them completing each other. They’re both innocents, and both incurably quirky. They weren’t just in love — for a long time, they defined love in movies. Who is Rocky but Adrian? Who is he if he doesn’t have to win her over? Not a character we recognize, and certainly not a character with a decades-spanning series of films. A friend commented that Rocky’s fight for Adrian is so important that it parallels — and maybe even trumps — his fight against Apollo Creed, and that Adonis’s romance with Bianca seems like a consequence of the fact that all mainstream movies need a romantic interest.
A lot of people came out of Creed feeling optimistic, myself included. It’s a good movie overall. We’re obviously getting a series here, and I like Jordan and director Ryan Coogler enough to get behind it. But the flaws I’ve mentioned have me worried that Creed could spin into a boring, blasé series of drama-lite, appeal-heavy fight films.
You should be worried too.
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