Two Cents is Gonna Fly Now with CREED

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

It seems hard to believe that after a decade of interconnected films and TV shows, a new Marvel movie could still register as exciting (no, it’s not. What is this crazyness you speak? — Austin). After all, they crank a couple of these things out every year, with the reliability and precision of a Swiss watch. The Marvel Cinematic Universe should long ago have become pat, unremarkable product.

But Black Panther is drawing a buzz unlike any other superhero film before it, even after the banner year for the genre that saw the release of everything from Logan to Wonder Woman to Jeff Goldblum Space Orgy: Ragnarok. Excitement for the film has been steadily mounting since Chadwick Boseman made a huge first impression in Captain America: Civil War, and that anticipation is reaching a fever pitch with the film only week away and the early reviews sounding down-right evangelical.

Black Panther’s quality and appeal should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan’s previous film, Creed. With only one other feature film under his belt (the hugely acclaimed Fruitvale Station), Coogler somehow coerced Sylvester Stallone into allowing him to co-write and direct a new entry in the Rocky series (thought to have conclusively wrapped up with 2006’s well-liked Rocky Balboa).

Creed stars Jordan as Adonis “Donny” Creed, the long-lost love child of Rocky’s rival, mentor, and friend Apollo Creed. Donny was born after Apollo’s fatal bout with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, spending his whole life in the shadow of a man he has never known. With a fire in his gut that he can only express in the boxing ring, Donny sets out to create his own legacy, recruiting an initially reluctant Rocky to be his manager.

Creed took audiences by storm in 2015, stunning both die-hard Rocky fans and newcomers to the franchise. It catapulted Jordan, Coogler, and Tessa Thompson (as Bianca, Donny’s ambitious, take-no-shit girlfriend) into the A-List, and earned Stallone some of the highest praise of his career, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination at that year’s Oscars. (We also hear it “stars” Cinapse writer and Philadelphian Liam O’Donnell as a blink-and-miss-him extra).

With Black Panther set to rewrite the game entirely — and with the Philadelphia Eagles animating a true-life underdog story by toppling the New England Patriots in last week’s Super Bowl — we thought it only fitting to take one last run through the mean streets of Philly and give Creed its moment in the spotlight.

Next Week’s Pick:

We’re continuing our celebration of Black Panther’s release by highlighting another film, this time with its main star. Netflix exclusive Message From The King is a violent revenge tale that features T’Challa himself, Chadwick Boseman — here also playing an African protagonist. There’s not a lot of buzz behind this film, but a great cast featuring Luke Evans, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer and Tom Felton certainly has us intrigued.

You can send your thoughts to [email protected] anytime before midnight on Thursday.

Our Guests

Jaime Burchardt:

I really don’t know why I’ve been putting off watching this until this week, so thank you TC for that. This is also my first Ryan Coogler film, and after watching this, yeah I’m even more eager to watch Black Panther and I have to watch Fruitvale Station soon, but if Creed is a true indication of Coogler’s talent…holy fuck I won’t be ready for those other two films. I barely survived Creed! He’s already one of my favorite new filmmakers now, and his entrance into a franchise I hold dear to my heart (Rocky Balboa forever, folks) is as dynamic as anything I’ve seen recently. What I loved most about the emotional punch that’s stored in this epic film is that it builds, and builds, and builds. That final moment when we finally learn what Adonis is all about hit me right in the sternum, and the sentiments poured out. It’s about proving something, to whoever is close to you, but most importantly yourself. Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are absolutely brilliant here, with outstanding supporting acts (had no idea Tessa Thompson was in this and hell yes), dazzling cinematography, some of the best editing I’ve seen in a long time, and a job from Coogler that is nothing but pure love and inspiration incarnate. (Side note-I listened to the soundtrack as I prepped this quick blurb up and if you haven’t listened to it, fix that because it’s awesome). (@jaimeburchardt)

Austin Wilden:

The main theme that I found myself holding onto on this recent rewatch of Creed is sharing. In the world as presented by Ryan Coogler in this movie, to share is to love. Passion, pain, legacy and food are all shared between the characters. When Donnie is telling Rocky, “I fight. You fight.”, it’s a declaration of willingness to share those fights. Whether it’s Donnie’s bout with Ricky Conlan, Rocky going through chemo or Bianca working to make a name for herself in music before she loses her hearing, keeping these things from each other causes problems and being willing to share them mends. If shared with the right people, it’s easier to take the pain and struggles on, as Rocky says, “One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.” (@WC_Wit)

Brendan Agnew:

The greatest triumphs of Creed are, appropriately, in the finer details. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler could have easily coasted on the legacy of the franchise’s statuesque iconography and well-worn routines. And to be sure, the movie seems — from a distance — to use the safe and standard structure of almost every Rocky film. However, like the titular contender, this movie is restless to prove itself in the harsh light of the ring rather than staying safely in the shadows.

And make no mistake, in the ring Creed is a hell of a fighter, but that’s not where the film is most interested in showing its mettle. It does so in the small, the personal. It’s in the way Michael B. Jordan creates such a charismatic yet volatile lead to stand in deliberate but complimentary contrast to the easygoing Balboa. It’s in the way almost everyone in Philly calls Rocky champ, but can’t drown out the echoing quiet where there should be the voices of Mick, Paulie, and Adrian. It’s in the way that Bianca will challenge Donnie just as surely as anyone in the ring, because she’s there for his passion but not his bullshit. It’s in the way characters will utter four or five words that unlock something brilliant and yet obvious that completely refocus the narrative.

And then a punch lands, and you realize that Ludwig Gransson’s score is so powerful and perfect that you didn’t even think to miss “Gonna Fly Now” until it drops at the perfect point in the 12th round and all those tiny details, those little victories, come together to bring you cheering to your feet. Because in a great Rocky movie, like life, it’s not the big title fight that matters the most. It’s the smaller successes that get you into the ring and keep you standing as you step out.

Ryan Coogler knows how winning is done, and Creed more than proves it. (@BLCAgnew)

Trey Lawson:

Creed has no business being as good as it is. A spinoff of a 1970s boxing movie franchise that’s already five sequels deep, it recognizes that why the original Rocky worked was not because of the sports but because of the characters. Michael B Jordan is a revelation as Adonis Johnson, and he imbues every scene with the conflicting emotions that drive his character. He is a person whose pain and feelings of abandonment have fueled his rage for years, but also an outsider who deeply wants to belong. Stallone’s Rocky becoming a supporting character makes perfect sense following the character’s swan song in Rocky Balboa, and his arc becomes even more powerful if you watch that film back to back with this one. In fact, this is probably Stallone’s best performance in at least the last 10 years-maybe longer. He and (the also delightful) Tessa Thompson provide emotional anchors for Adonis, forcing him to keep it 100, as it were, as he struggles to come to terms with his identity as a Creed. It also doesn’t hurt that when the boxing sequences do start, they have some of the most exciting in-ring camerawork and editing I’ve ever seen. I love everything about this film. Creed makes me cry every time I watch it, and I am very concerned about the sequel reportedly swinging the franchise back toward larger-than-life cartoon characters and macho jingoism. Can I see Black Panther now? (@T_Lawson)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

It’s a tough statement to make as a Philadelphian, but I’ve always been lukewarm on the Rocky films. I mean, I LIKE them, but have never been able to claim that I LOVE them. The first is a really solid film and the sequels vary from good to only okay. In short, they are good films, but have never blown me away. Perhaps the fact my Philadelphia pride is relatively young due to not being a native Philadelphian; but, each year I’m here, I love this city and this area more and more.

With that, I spent this whole week reveling in all things Philly, culminating in spending my day at the insane Eagles Super Bowl Parade and festivities associated with it yesterday. Thus, I’m Philly’d up at a level beyond any I’ve been before.

In keeping with that, Creed embodies the Philly spirit and the Rocky spirit in such great ways. It’s the best film in the series since the first and the cast is phenomenal. In short, this jawn is tight and you should watch it if you haven’t yet. (@ThePaintedMan)

Brendan Foley:

Were it not for the existence of Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed would have been far and away my favorite film of 2015, and it has only grown in my estimation since that first viewing. Going into the film, I had no idea how I would react to someone else taking Stallone’s very personal ball and running with it. I love and revere the Rocky films (well, fine, five of them. Rocky V never happened. It NEVER HAPPENED), and part of what makes them fascinating is the way each film acts as a reflection of where Stallone was at personally and creatively at that time. So, yeah, Rocky IV is bloated, coked-out insanity, 80’s excess given physical manifestation. But that’s where he was in his life at that point. Along with loving Rocky films, I just love Rocky himself. Rocky Balboa is one of the great creations in cinema, especially in that never-bettered first film. So as exciting as it was to get another story in this world after Rocky Balboa seemed to close the door as well as could have been hoped, it was nerve-wracking as well. What if this new guy fucked it up? What if they got Rock wrong, or retroactively screwed up Apollo? What if *gulp* they made us watch Rocky Balboa die? The heart can only take so much.

All that worrying was for naught. Coogler and his collaborators do an incredible job of both capturing the grit and flavor of the original Rocky, while also making a film that in its pacing, style, and world feels thoroughly modern. This isn’t JJ-style nostalgia fetish, recreating the past to earn automatic affection, but taking what worked in the past and building from there. Coogler knows where to experiment, where to show some flash (the one-shot fight is an all-timer, and the impressionistic flourishes during the final contest work much better here than when Stallone tried for something similar in Balboa’s climax) and when to play the notes we all already know. He knows how to hold out back on the familiar Rocky tropes juuuuuuuuust long enough to make their recurrence more satisfying than you woulda thought humanly possible (the return of Rocky’s theme during the climax makes me want to stand and cheer every damn time).

Scene for scene, shot for shot, Creed is the work of a new master, swaggering onto center stage and letting everyone know he is here to stay. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Rocky is my absolute favorite franchise and Creed is a wonderful film that proudly stands in that tradition, adding depth to the epic, now multi-generational saga.

The best thing about Creed is that it’s simultaneously a great new story while also being 100% a Rocky film. This is the next chapter of the Rocky saga, but also shifts focus to introduce us to the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s former rival turned best friend. The burying of the hatchet was one of the franchise’s most endearing developments, and the sense of surrogate family that resulted continues in this cleverly scripted follow-up.

Adonis has the same kind of hunger that drove Rocky — in his case, the result of fear of living in his father’s shadow combined with the shame of being an illegitimate son. By having a compelling protagonist, story, and framework that honor the franchise, Creed easily dodges the pitfalls of the “son of” trope of sequelization. And lest we forget, this is Rocky’s story, too. With Adrian and now Paulie passed on, and his son having moved far away, he’s feeling more old, lonely, and tired with each passing day. Even though he’s always been a fighter, he’s reached a place where there’s not much left to fight for.

Underneath the boxing framework is the real impact of the story, giving Rocky the sense of purpose that he’s lost, and Adonis the father figure he never had. It’s this key relationship that drives the film and makes it a real-deal Rocky movie and not just a spin-off — and also its own unique entity and jumping-off point for an incredible new character. (@VforVashaw)

(Excerpted/reassembled from Austin’s Creed Blu-ray review)

Further reading:

Next week’s pick:

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