Film Review: 'Creed'
Opens: 15 January 2016 (UK)
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Slyvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew
Director: Ryan Coogler
Producers: Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Slyvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton
In the red corner weighing in at $1.6 billion and holding the title for most anticipated franchise movie of all time, Star Wars the Force Awakens, and, in the blue corner barely scraping past the $100 million mark and trailing behind a legacy everyone thought was finished twenty years ago, Creed!
While the stats aren’t great and the timing of the movie’s release in the UK could not be worse (was it just me or did this movie appear from nowhere) the return of Rocky Balboa to the big screen has a lot in common with the newest episode from that galaxy far far away. Just like The Force Awakens, Creed taps into and honours the legacy of the Rocky movies, while also moving the story forward to a new generation, with a new direction and new problems of their own.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate child of world champion Apollo Creed. Adonis goes by ‘Donnie’ for short, because…. well, Adonis?! Really?! And social services wonder why he gets into so many fights?! For those who are not fans of the Rocky movies Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world until he was defeated by Rocky in the Italian Stallion’s second cinematic outing; he also became one of Rocky’s best friends.
Having got into boxing as a way of defending himself in juvenile detention Donnie seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him. What he finds is a man settled into a quieter life, reticent to return to the ring for any reason. The deaths of Apollo, his best friend Paulie and his wife Adrian linger in Rocky’s life. His attempt to train newcomer Tommy in Rocky V ended in a gruelling street brawl, so you can’t really blame the guy for wanting to hide under a rock.
Like Rocky, Donnie is also haunted by his absent father, who was killed in the ring (by Dolph Lungdren’s Ivan Drago in Rocky IV) before Donnie was even born. Donnie has failed to find his place in the world, struggling with his identity and accepting his father’s legacy. Drawing the two main characters together through the deceased Apollo is seamless, credible and oft times touching. Surprisingly, the knowing banter between Stallone’s grizzled life-worn legend and Jordan’s troubled young protégé is perfectly pitched. Tense with the drama of a broken family and light with the love that it still has through it’s missing father figure, Rocky and Donnie’s unlikely kinship is wonderful to watch. This testament to a strong script and excellent performances from both actors, particularly Stallone whose tender rendering of an older Rocky is heart warming and occasionally comedy gold!
As a piece of modern storytelling Creed is a masterclass in layering subthemes and character development. Whatever faith was required to give director Ryan Coogler this huge break in his career has been justified. Creed is much more than a well-made reboot; Donnie is the poster child for modern family dysfunction and the movie addresses his issues without jarring, or condescending. Boxing sequences are beautifully choreographed, laced with drama and enthralling – the boxing equivalent of a good movie car chase (coming from someone who would never watch boxing). Directorially there is one sequence, where an attempt is made to reimagine Rocky’s famous step climbing, which would be best removed and forgotten. In the grand scheme of the whole film however, it can be easily forgiven.
That the film is of a high standard will not however be a shock to anyone who knows the career of Tessa Thompson (who plays Donnie’s next door neighbour Bianca). To date Thompson has a track record for choosing intelligent scripts that are equal parts challenging and entertaining. She is an asset to this film just as she has been in previous projects – make sure you check out Dear White People on Netflix at the moment. A movie title that conveniently brings us to an elephant in the Hollywood room. There is no escaping how Hollywood struggles to produce decent mainstream movies that focus on black characters, and yet without so much as a fanfare to this, here it is!!! Creed is a thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding movie that celebrates and yet moves beyond the race of its black main character. This should not be worth mentioning but the sad fact is that it still is – more of this please movie producers!
It’s a shame that Creed has somewhat passed under the radar, due to the arrival of Disney’s imperial fleet, because it packs a much bigger punch than many will be expecting and deserves far more attention than it’s getting.