In Los Angeles in 1998, young Adonis Creed just can’t stop getting into fights. Whether it’s in the group homes, foster families, or detention facilities he’s continually rotated between, the urge to defend himself with his fists is in his nature and in his blood. Salvation comes in the form of Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), Apollo Creed’s wife, who decides to raise little Adonis, even though he was born from an affair that Apollo had with another woman.
Seventeen years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is working at the Smith Boardley Financial Group and facing a handsome promotion. But instead of taking the extra money and responsibilities, he abruptly abandons his honest future for the riskier venture of training at the Delphi Boxing Academy, where he hopes to go pro. When no one in L.A. will mentor the light heavyweight, Adonis journeys to Philadelphia to track down the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who just might have a soft spot when it comes to coaching the son of his greatest opponent (and a dear friend).
There are only so many training montages a person can withstand. But this seventh entry into the “Rocky” franchise doesn’t let up with its seemingly endless supply of hand-thrusting, muscle-flexing, fist-pumping workout routines set to motivational music. In fact, boxing movies in general are being released so regularly that writer/director Ryan Coogler should have strayed away from such formulaic, unoriginal material. But, handed one of the most inexplicably enduring series in cinema, he clearly couldn’t bring himself to refuse.
In an attempt to bring one new element into the fold, the editing style has changed. But not always for the better. Sharper images and more complex choreography can’t save “Creed” from the video game-like statistics that pop onscreen in a completely terrible idea that drives the production further away from the realism it hoped to attain. It’s as if the movie doesn’t want to be taken seriously – which is basically what happens as soon as Stallone makes an appearance as the famed Rocky, putting this piece of dramatic fiction squarely into the realm of fantasy.
It’s not all bad, however, as the first real fight (taking place somewhere in the middle) is shot in a continuous manner, never cutting away while hovering over the shoulder of each pugilist in turn as they exchange blows. It’s only two rounds long, but the technique is mesmerizing, placing the viewer directly into the ring as if in place of the referee, scrutinizing each punch and remaining in the moment, even when the bell beckons the fighters into their corners. Unfortunately, a classic mistake is made when this lone, fascinating sequence can’t be outdone by the climax (a traditional championship bout with an interchangeable, essentially random, undefeated opponent), causing the second half of the feature to meander with downhill momentum.
With all of the redundancies in plot and imagery, “Creed” might as well have been one long montage of scenes pulled from the previous six pictures. Even when moments of humor highlight the motif of young versus old, or when father/son bonding edges in, or when the obligatory romance sparks between Adonis and his noisy neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson), or when the inescapable, inspirational sports drama theme of never giving up rears its ugly head, bits of genuine poignancy are lost on the stretched out running time and the clichéd interactions. The instances of heart are buried so deep that audiences are left with nothing but the excruciating pattern of training and fighting, training and fighting. At least Jordan looks very much like Carl Weathers.