Ryan Coogler's Creed wants all of the Rocky drama but invests in none of the smarts. It's set in Philadelphia, the Mount Olympus of movie boxing, where Adonis "Hollywood" Johnson, illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, pilgrimages to learn footwork from that legendary oracle, Rocky Balboa, played as ever by Sylvester Stallone.
Now, supposedly, he's here to pass the gloves to rising talent Michael B. Jordan and become his Burgess Meredith–like mentor. But after seven rounds as the Italian Stallion, Stallone can't let go of the spotlight -- even though he barely has a handle on his own character. His Balboa has been Xeroxed too many times; he's all blurry around the edges. When Adonis uploads his jumprope routine to the cloud, Rocky is mystified. "What cloud?" he grunts, looking at the sky, a joke that could pop up in any movie about any retiree.
The movie around him is just as vague. After his fifteenth win at a slum club in Tijuana, Adonis quits a vague white-collar job (insurance? banking? law?) to go pro. Why? He's rich, not desperate or dumb. Adonis can't answer that question, and neither can the film, which vacillates between believing he needs to prove himself as an individual and framing boxing as an inheritable disease. Even the bouts themselves are easily distracted. Coogler likes to use swirling single takes, which feel visceral and frightening -- Creed's battle against Leo "The Lion" Sporino (Gabe Rosado) is a literal knockout — but missteps by keeping the camera so close we often can't even see the fighters' fists. He'd rather pan over to look at blood-spatters, ice buckets, bikini girls, anywhere but the ring.