And so January (for the UK box office at least) continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, first The Danish Girl, then The Revenant and this time it’s with Creed.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) is the illegitimate love child of Apollo Creed from back in his hay day, unhappy in his current job and feeling unfulfilled he starts on the path to make it on his own as a boxer without using his fathers name, a decision made after a life time of bitterness over abandonment. When everyone refuses to train him because of who his father is he seeks out Rocky Balboa and convinces him to take him under his wing to progress his career.
Right off the bat it is clear that if you are looking for something that departs from the usual Rocky tropes then this film is not for you. But… if you are a fan of any of the others and liked the familiarity of the story/characters, the action/montages and the emotional build up then this film does all these and more to a really high standard.
Director Ryan Coogler (known for the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station & will be directing Marvel’s Black Panther) teams up again Michael B Jordan and it’s clear the two has chemistry and Coogler brings out the performance from Jordan we’ve been waiting for. The film has the perfect balance of emotional backstory to action but never feels preachy. We clearly see what Adonis has gone through, why he has the chip on his shoulder and how he develops emotionally when new people are thrown into his life. The film moves at a pretty brisk pace and as a viewer you are never bored. Jordan is convincing as Adonis in all aspects and has a charisma that keeps you wanting to know more about his life. There is no big transformation of character, he’s flawed and focuses his weaknesses and attempts to turns them into strengths. This is not a rags to riches story, but rather a journey towards putting a past of resentment behind him. The name ‘Creed’ that he has tried to hide from his whole life is the constant tug-of-war as everyone around him reacts differently towards him once knowing the truth and it is what he has to come to terms with on a personal level to become the boxer he wants to be. Coogler successfully uses his time with his Rocky, his romantic interest Bianca and many in and around the boxing world to show this.
The action definitely some of the best boxing around and hats off to the innovative camera work. The 2nd fight Creed has there is a tracking shot of the whole fight and it is so cleverly done you don’t really see where it is they could have cut, making it a compelling physical experience. This along with the second round of the last fight are easily the highlights of the action. In the last bout it starts off one sided with the title holder being quite cocky and then our challenger Adonis makes a specific hit that completely opens up the fight where what you see for the rest of the round is a pound for pound adrenaline wrenching slug fest. It’s the sort of scene that makes you sit up and take even more notice and wrenches the action up towards its climax .
Even though Michael B Jordan is excellent it is Sylvester Stallone that steals the show. He brings another level of depth and sympathy to Rocky Balboa that wasn’t necessarily missing but certainly hasn’t been seen on this level. He shares some heart wrenching moments with Jordan that refer back to a lot that happens in the other films of the franchise and delivers them impeccably. I can’t help but think him not having to write or direct Creed gave him the opportunity to focus on Rocky in a way not seen before. Love interest Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, is Adonis’ musician neighbour come love interest whose hearing is degrading to the point of deafness. Just by giving her the condition of hearing loss it opens up so many more emotive conversations were you can appreciate the sub-text of what both are saying, the romance written really well in this regard and if anything it would have been nice to have seen more of her.
The film uses the nostalgia of the previous films but by no means rely on it. Creed is its’ own identity and feels genuinely authentic. The emotional issues the director decides to utilize are completely believable and not settling on just one, there are things that pop up all over the place that resonate with the viewer. This is the drama that reels you in and the action is what keeps you around to the end.
This is the film Southpaw wanted to be. A film to rival the original, Creed proves once again that Rocky films provide the best montages, it’s good film making, great performances and enjoyable action. A combination that any film goer can get behind.