Growing up on the streets makes you tough. You fight your way up, and end up in a mansion. But mansion living makes you soft. The next guy coming up from the streets calls you out as a weakling, and you take a beating. Everyone thinks you’re a bum. And then you go back to the streets to toughen up again. First there’s the Training Montage with inspirational music, and then there’s a big fight scene. That’s when you prove You Can Go The Distance/You Aint No Bum/You Aint in Nobody’s Shadow/Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner/etc.
That’s the way Rocky movies are supposed to work. The problem with Creed is that the protagonist starts out in a mansion. Sure, he grew up in foster homes and whatnot, but while he’s still a kid he is rescued by Mrs. Apollo Creed (Phylicia Rashad) and gets taken home to her mansion. Suddenly it’s however many years later, and the little kid is now Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, The Wire). After a low-rent boxing match in Tijuana, he returns to his mansion and his vague highly paid financial services job. But the kid’s got Boxing in his Blood, so yadda yadda yadda, everyone thinks he’s a bum, training with Rocky Balboa, there’s a big fight, the end.
Not that it’s a bad movie. The final fight scene is very good and Tessa Thompson is fine as the requisite slightly damaged love interest. But the movie – it lacks heart. The protagonist’s mansion is empty and reveals absolutely nothing about him. Ditto for his workplace. Who are his friends? Where did he go to school? We never find out – director Ryan Coogler checks off all the boxes for Plot and Backstory, but never creates a well-rounded character. Rocky owns a restaurant, but we never see him interacting with customers or cooking food or whatever. It makes sense that all the Mickeys and Adrians and Paulies are dead by now, but the movie could have really used one of them as a sounding board for Rock or Adonis.
And what’s at stake here, really? If Creed Jr. wins, he ends up in a mansion. And if he loses, he still ends up in a mansion. There is some business about him getting out from Creed Sr.’s shadow, but since he goes by Johnson anyway, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. There just isn’t enough at stake to make the kid’s struggle compelling.
So wait for Rocky VII: The Creed Generation to come to Netflix. Because a boxing movie is about heart, not muscle, like Adrian almost said in Rocky V.