Astoundingly, CREED works equally well as a continuation of the ROCKY series and as a film in its own right. You might have expected one or the other, but it is an impressive balancing act to have it deliver as both. Sylvester Stallone has stepped back from his baby and allowed Ryan Coogler to tell the story he wants to tell much to the film’s benefit.
Adonis Johnson’s (Michael B. Jordan) life has not been easy. He never knew his parents and has always been a fighter so spent his early years between care homes and in and out of juvenile detention centres. When he learns he is the offspring of late boxing icon Apollo Creed, he seeks out Creed’s former rival and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) for training. Will Adonis choose his own path or will he proudly adopt his father’s monicker and prove worthy of it?
The fights in Creed make those found in every previous Rocky movie look amateurish in comparison. They’re fast, frenetic and crisply edited to marry with the rhythm of Ludwig Göransson’s thumping score and you’re never in doubt for a moment that it is really the actors putting in the hard work. The shape Michael B. Jordan is in, his sheer physicality and the raw emotion he pumps into every punch and moment of anguish is truly enviable.
Creed works for many of the same reasons that the original Rocky did. It’s another grounded story about a nobody in a bad place in his life becoming a somebody. Whereas Rocky was a street kid stuck in a soul-destroying rut of amateur boxing with a sideline as a thug for hire, Donny comes from money by the virtue of being his famous father’s son, but is desperate to make his own name off his own back and become a contender. He has talent and puts his all into every bout, but without the name this matters not one not to boxing promoters (his opponent’s coach threatens to call off the final high-stakes fight if Donny doesn’t change his name to Creed). Despite addressing similar themes, these touches allow for an interesting class contrast between the two movies and for barbed criticism of the all-consuming publicity concerns of major sporting events.
Donny is a great character, trapped in the social care system as a child and by his father’s legacy as an adult, with an ever-present and unquenchable thirst to prove himself. Michael B. Jordan proves that FANTASTIC FOUR was an unfortunate fluke and he embodies likability and movie star charisma throughout. He and Coogler proved to be a winning combination in the harrowing FRUITVALE STATION and you certainly hope for further hard-hitting collaborations in the future. Tessa Thompson grows beyond the love interest role with dreams and life challenges of her own as Bianca and Stallone despite stepping back to an extent turns in one of the performances of his career – tender, mature and honest.
One of my pet peeves in Hollywood movies is incessant captions accompanying a location change. One Philadelphia, PA or Liverpool, England is fine, but we really don’t need it every time we fly across the Atlantic – I think most people will be able to tell the difference between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Liver Building. I also think the film could do with a slightly different ending to Rocky. There’s doing a nod to what has come before and then there’s producing an outright carbon copy.
Despite occasional flurries of repetition, Creed manages to jolt an outdated and outmoded franchise to life once more and succeeds in being its own thing. Much like Adonis, the film escapes the shadow of its forebear. Should it have received awards recognition for something other than Stallone’s showy and poignant turn? Absolutely it should. But there’s time aplenty yet for Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan as their already vibrant careers are only just beginning. SSP