Creed (2015) Review:
Rocky Episode VII
In my review for Southpaw, I mentioned how the sports movie, and more specifically the boxing movie, is a rarity in film in that, rather than evolve from the tropes and cliches it’s known for, it revels in it. Audiences even find it a travesty if the film doesn’t include the things they came to see. Of course, you can’t talk about that phenomenon without mentioning the OG boxing film, Rocky. The Rocky franchise is a perfect example of repeating a winning formula to the point of self parody.
From a first film about rising out of the gutter to be a superstar, to symbolically winning the cold war in a fist fight with Russia incarnate, Rocky has always been about something, just not with as much subtlety as it used to. Each film is a take on the first Rocky, just with a twist that’s usually preceded by “Except this time…”. This is something that breaks most franchises, but like the titular main character, it just keeps getting back up. One thing is for certain though, there must be montages.
With that in mind, I went into the newest film in the Rocky franchise, ‘Creed’, expecting to be entertained as I always was with these movies. I’d be engrossed in the main characters plight, watch him fail, train, and then win in a way that meant he’d overcome his personal obstacles, but may or may not have actually won the fight. Of course, I got exactly what I expected, but what I didn’t expect was to see one of the best films of 2015.
As Mr. Balboa had his last one last fight in 2006’s ‘Rocky Balboa’, this new film follows the story of a young Adonis Creed, illegitimate son of Rocky’s first major adversary, Apollo Creed. A small time fighter with a lot of heart, Creed jr. is somewhat of a lost soul at the point of his introduction. Because of his name, he’s unable to move beyond his father’s shadow and can’t find anyone to take him seriously and train him. Adonis recognizes his need for focus, and thus leaves his home of L.A for the mean streets of Philly, seeking out the tutelage of the people’s champion himself, Rocky Balboa. The two engage in a meaningful mentor/trainee relationship that provides the movie’s heart.
Rocky becomes Mickey in this later edition to the ‘Rocky’ franchise.
Right of the bat that is what I love the most about ‘Creed’. It takes elements of the old guard and tacitly vests it in with the new. As Rocky trains Adonis, you get the usual references to the fans which serves as great fan service, but as we’ve seen fan service alone does not a good movie make. Instead what you get here is a perfect meld of more contemporary themes of identity and self realization mixed in with the old familiar themes of legacy. As far as continuations of long standing franchises go, ‘Creed’ is probably the greatest example of this I’ve ever seen, and that’s in a year which had ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ in it and the critically acclaimed ‘Terminator: Genisys’
This is most evident in the music. ‘Rocky’ has always been a franchise in which the score has played a big part of it. You heard the lonely manesque version of ‘Gonna Fly’ when Rocky aimlessly roamed the streets of Philadelphia and then heard that same theme in full form when Rocky was at his best at the top of the steps of the Art Museum. Here, you still get that basic structure, but instead, Adonis’ training sequences include that old theme, mixed in with contemporary hip hop beats. It’s a brilliant way to invigorate this new story with a sense of momentum that wouldn’t be there if you were listening to the same old songs, yet still maintaining that sense of comfortable familiarity.
Of course, another stride the movie makes is through character. We’re introduced to Adonis at a young age with a strong penchant for violence and learn so much about him as the story goes on. The movie shows him as someone with intellect and the skills to do something other than fight, but can’t escape his inner desire to do so. It’s a flip on Rocky’s character who famously fights because he can’t sing and dance. There’s so much work put into Adonis’ character that is massively helpful seeing as this movie is at it’s core a character piece, and would be a lesser movie with a character you didn’t give a damn about. Michael B. Jordan helps this as he’s as good as he always is, and it’s good to see him given a script he can work with again.
However the real acting powerhouse comes from Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone. Sly gives one of his best performances since…well the last time he played Rocky Balboa. He’s playing a man who’s been through uppest of ups and the downest of downs in life and at the end of it all is just kind of tired. When he meets Adonis, you’re seeing hints of the character you knew come back but largely, his performance is subdued, always coming off as honest. He strikes you as someone at the end of his rope and gives the film some of it’s darkest, most heartfelt moments that are sold by Sly’s performance.
The fights themselves are interestingly shot. Rather than taken from the view of the audience, the fights are shot much more personal, almost as if from the referee’s perspective. It’s mostly one shot for these scenes, and takes you into the ring itself. I’m not sure how I felt about these scenes, as while I appreciated what I gained, in seeing Adonis’ reaction to each and every punch thrown his way, I feel as though I lost the overall context in which these punches were thrown. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks but I think a mix of both ought to do the trick.
Something I did love about the fights though, is just how much the movie shows you the harshness of the boxing world. Phylicia Rashad plays Apollo’s widow and Adonis’ stepmother and you hear her describe the debilitating effect that fighting had on Apollo, something the Rocky films never shied from showing. ‘Creed’ not only gives you that post fight effect, but takes moments to show you the depravity mid fight. You see blood, scars, and spit in gruesome detail, and you also see how much this is the norm in a boxing match as the blood is simply wiped off the floor before the next bell.
I should take time to mention just how wonderfully grateful I am that Ryan Coogler exists. Coming off the back of ‘Fruitvale Station’, it was easy to see how he could fit in with a Rocky movie. Fruitvale has that style of filming that makes you feel as though the character is a real person, with the camera positioned in a way that I like to describe as professionally amateur. He also knows how to capture the film’s most powerful moments in a way that surprised and delighted me as a viewer.
‘Creed’ is a great film that has a lot of character, a well paced script, and moments that made me literally jump out of my seat and cheer. It was not the movie I expected it to be, but I suppose in a series about underdogs overcoming odds and showing the world what they’re really made of, I guess that’s only fitting. There are a few nit picks here and there, and the fight scenes while thrilling, did leave me feeling slightly robbed of the wider context, I still very much enjoyed ‘Creed’ and would see it again in a heartbeat.
Rating: Big Screen Watch