Writer/director Ryan Coogler does a lot to rehabilitate the image of the Rocky franchise with Creed – in the storytelling, as well as the story showing. This is an outsider tale—not unlike the first ever Rocky movie—and it is told with the control and the grace of an outsider who has been allowed a few peeks behind the velvet rope – which is an admirable achievement because no matter what people tell you about how they will never forget their humble(r) roots, perspective is a hard thing to maintain.
According to the narrative order of things as laid out by Mr. Coogler and his co-writer Aaron Covington, Apollo Creed died before Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) was born, so the boy never knew his father. As a child he fought to protect his honour, and as an adult he fights to make his place in the world, but in the tradition of fathers and sons with unresolved issues Adonis also fights in the long shadow cast by his father’s memory. So he tries to distance himself from the legacy by disowning his family name.
Since Apollo is long dead, the father figure in Creed is played by the Italian Stallion himself: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)—reluctantly at first. But the draw of drills, sweaty gyms, and the ring, is too great. So when it becomes clear that Donnie—the name Adonis prefers to go by—isn’t giving up or going away, Rocky gets involved in the young man’s training.
Quite like the previous best movie in the history of this franchise Creed is not so much about boxing as it is about life. And the way Mr. Coogler tells this story with the help of cinematographer Maryse Alberti, editors Claudia Castello and Michael P. Sawver, and composer Ludwig Göransson, it is rich with little asides, minor distractions, and mad flavour. Adonis meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson) when he moves to Philadelphia from Los Angeles and their burgeoning relationship is given enough screen time for it to mean as much as his drive to become a better boxer. Rocky is also going through some personal stuff that is treated with a maturity one is not supposed to expect from our big screen entertainment – not any more.
This movie looks and sounds great. While the entire movie is from Adonis’s perspective, that idea takes on a whole new meaning when we are put in his corner during the fight scenes, and it delivers a behind the scenes flavour that needs to be seen to be understood. The camera, choreography, and edit teams also worked nicely to keep perspective on who was in charge during those fights. The film also boasts a powerful soundtrack that manages to say its piece without ever getting into that angry loud zone that threatens our hearing and our sanity.
The fact that Rocky, Bianca and Adonis are damaged human beings with real impediments to their continued success is acknowledged by her, welcomed by the old man, and ignored by the central character in this movie. Until life comes along – rather than any major movie twist – and forces those that need to change to do so.
Michael B. Jordan brings his A+ game to this movie and he is a treat to watch. It has been clear that he is a good actor from the time we watched him do his thing in Friday Night Lights so that should come as no surprise. A few more legend-building turns like this one though, and he might have to start taking it seriously when people call him the next Denzel, or de Niro.
Sylvester Stallone’s presence in this movie is a comforting one. He gets to deliver some funny lines and also bring real gravitas to the image of the ageing boxer who just wants to live out the rest of his days in peace. He is quite a revelation as the mentor, especially in scenes like the one where he explains why he doesn’t personally supervise certain aspects of Adonis’s training.
Creed is an example of desire and achievement meeting in the middle, shaking hands, then embracing, and going to a bar as future best friends. By that I mean, this is a case of the desire to make a good movie actually leading to all the parts falling into place to make it so. God knows the world didn’t need another movie set in the Rocky universe but we’ve finally got one that restores much of the franchise’s former glory. Much respect to Ryan Coogler for shepherding this one across the finish line.