DIR: Ryan Coogler • WRI: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington • PRO: Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawver • DES: Hannah Beachler • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Creed is the latest film in the Rocky series, and manages to do the impossible: redeem Michael B. Jordan for that god-awful Fant4stic movie. The film was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the writer-director behind 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station, and this film proves, once and for all, that Mr. Coogler is not a one-hit wonder, he is an amazing up-and-coming talent and I for one cannot wait for his upcoming Black Panther.
As our story starts, Adonis is in a boxing match in Mexico. After winning the fight, he goes back to his comfortable office job, then hands in his notice so that he can pursue a career as a professional boxer. Unfortunately, this proves more difficult than it would seem, as all of the coaches he encounters refuse to train him because… well, that’s never really explained. The coach mentions it’s because he’s the son of Apollo Creed, although that really should be a reason to train him, seeing as he literally has the blood of a champion in him. Anyway, all the trainers in L.A. refuse to train him, so he goes to Philadelphia to find Rocky Balboa and get him to train him, kick-starting a heart-warming journey of redemption, friendship and becoming your own man.
Now the first thing I want to mention is the cinematography courtesy of The Wrestler D.O.P. Maryese Alberti. This film looks absolutely amazing, capturing the dirty, grimy feeling of Philadelphia in a way no Rocky movie has since the original film from 1976, and the boxing scenes are best that this franchise has ever had. The camera moves, swings, dodges, and ducks with Adonis himself, making you feel like you’re the one in the ring dodging those punches, and throughout every boxing scene my heart was pounding so hard I was expecting it to leap out of my chest like Ridley Scott’s Alien. One fight in particular, halfway through the film, is executed with a three-minute tracking shot and is easily one of the best one-on-one fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
Creed also boasts great performances. From The Wire, through to Creed, taking in Fruitvale Station and Chronicle along the way, Michael. B. Jordan is proving himself again and again to be one of the best actors Hollywood has to offer. Sylvester Stallone proves that no matter how many stupid Expendables movies he appears in, he’s still a fine actor, giving his best performance since Copland, and Tessa Thompson is excellent as up-and-coming musician Bianca, while the rest of the supporting cast also give it their all.
Creed successfully recaptures the feeling of the original film, being about the characters more than it is about the boxing. Adonis isn’t fighting just for the money and glory, he’s doing it because he wants to get out of his father’s shadow. He doesn’t just want to use someone else’s name and reputation to live comfortably, he wants to forge his own name and reputation, similar to this film as a whole, which makes sure to forge its own identity with its new characters and the hip-hop infusions which it blends seamlessly into the old Rocky OST.
Rocky, as well, is more broken and damaged than he’s ever been, as his wife and most of his friends are dead, his son is in a different country and barely keeps in contact with him, and he’s feeling less and less motivated to keep living, and Bianca is slowly going deaf, which, naturally, is detrimental to her music career. Like the original Rocky, Creed understands that characters who are undergoing personal struggles are a lot more interesting than characters fighting roided-up Russian killing machines. The reason this film works so well isn’t because of the boxing, which admittedly is excellent, it succeeds because the characters are so well-realised and their arcs carry so much emotional weight.
However, that isn’t to say this film is perfect. For one thing, the fight in the middle is so good that the end fight, the climax of the film, ends up being less exhilarating than the fight which ultimately doesn’t matter and makes no difference to the over-arching plot. For another, I didn’t fully buy into the romantic sub-plot between Adonis and Bianca. It seems like they meet, get to know each other for a bit, and before you know it they’re suddenly madly in love. As Hank Moody would say, it’s not really settling for Mrs right so much as it is settling for Mrs right in front of you.
However, these are the petty nit-picks of a critic trying hard to find something to complain about. The bottom line is that this is one of the finest films to come out this year. Go and see it.
132 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Creed is released 15th January 2016