Movie Review: Creed
With ringside seats filled with critics and fans, this unexpected Rocky spinoff hops into the ring as the underdog to face off against the heavyweight might of its 6-film legacy. Creed has a familiar fighting style, but does its youthfulness promise any new tricks that might unseat the reigning champ?
Creed’s the tale of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed (from Rocky I to IV, played by Carl Weathers), on his own journey to become a boxer. Not satisfied with small time underground fights in Mexico, Adonis travels to Philadelphia to get tutelage from the equally famous Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the man that was his father’s rival and friend.
Rocky’s years of experience in the ring, combined with Adonis’s self-taught fighting know-how gives the young Creed what he needs to face off against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew, whose actual boxing nickname is “Bomber”), the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer. On the way to the final brawl, you’ll see the pouty defiance of the hot-blooded boxer and glean the real reason for Adonis’s fighting spirit (we won’t spoil it for you).
From the get-go, Creed differs from the original and much venerated Rocky as it’s not a rags-to-riches tale. Adonis is a successful but unfulfilled employee in a banking firm with a promotion awaiting him. But he fights because it’s his passion and to prove himself as the offspring of a hero he never knew.
It’s not often that we point out a film’s directing. Usually, directing, like CGI, is only pointed out in reviews as a target for criticism because good directing immerses you and you are most unaware of it when everything is as it should be. With Creed, we wish to praise the directing of Ryan Coogler. While this is only his second feature film, this Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prizewinner (he won for Fruitvale Station) flexes his muscles again with excellent cinematography and vision, delivering some of the most compelling and enthralling fight scenes we’ve seen since Southpaw.
Working with Jordan again, Coogler has the camera track around the fighters as they ‘dance’ with each other and there’re enough generous close ups to capture each fighter’s intense focus. However, the scene we most appreciated is the long uninterrupted shot (reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s love of tracking shots) of Adonis going from his dressing room to the ring in Liverpool to square off against Conlan.
It isn’t overly dramatic nor does it contain gratuitous slow motion, but it effectively captures Adonis’s defiance as the David stepping into the home-turf of the Goliath champion. And the obligatory Rocky-esque training montage of both fighters, juxtaposed against each other, hasn’t worn out its welcome and is still enjoyable.
Inspired by the director/co-writer seeing his own father suffer from a neuromuscular disorder, Rocky is a shadow of his young spritely boxer self as he battles age and cancer. We often dread to think of our revered action movie heroes aging, but after seeing The Expendables and Terminator: Genisys, we mildly regret wanting to see them back on screens mowing down bad guys.
But in their advanced years, these exaggerated silver screen badasses of the 80s can still reel you in with their emotions instead of their fists. Despite the many jabs at Stallone’s thoroughly emotionless visage, partly due to his from-birth facial paralysis, he’s surprisingly tender, if stiff, in his portrayal of the macho man unwilling to seek chemotherapy because of his pride. As the nearly 70-year-old action movie star mumbles in his trademark way, again no thanks to that accident during his own birth, we see the darker side of Balboa’s reluctance: his depression at losing his wife to cancer and his not having the will to live on.
Alas, it’s not a Rocky film without a clichéd and glossed-over change of mind. In Creed, we see the Italian Stallion being very briefly talked into not only accepting chemotherapy treatment, but persuaded to train Adonis within 2 days of meeting the aspiring champ. For a man who doesn’t want to deal with boxing anymore, such an about-turn is startling. Although if a second-time filmmaker like Coogler could persuade Stallone to hand over his precious Rocky franchise to him after Rocky’s boxing gloves had been hung up, anything can happen we suppose.
Rocky’s sudden turns aren’t our only gripe with Creed either. The romance between Adonis and his neighbour-turn-girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), is thoroughly shoehorned in. It begins awkwardly with Adonis getting infatuated with Bianca after stumbling across her singing in a bar, before it mellows out into a mediocre relationship with haste.
As it was with Rocky vs Apollo in the first instalment, Creed is the one no one has money on in a fight with the previous 6 Stallone-centered flicks. But we love watching the underdog and Creed is no different – we couldn’t help smiling as we watched. A nimble upstart, Creed manages holds its own with a new protagonist and a different take on the previous protagonist, even if it does rely on nostalgia to draw in viewers. It’s a shame the iconic theme isn’t in the film: we miss Rocky’s iconic Eye of the Tiger.
Release Date: 26 November 2015
Runtime: 133 minutes
Genre: Sports, Drama
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Tony Bellew
Photos courtesy of Shaw