Creed: Film Review
Cast: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Graham McTavish\
Director: Ryan Coogler
Legacy hangs heavy over Creed.
Not only is its titular protagonist (played by Fruitvale Station star Michael B Jordan who reteams with the same director) trying to escape the legacy of a father he never knew, but the film tries to simultaneously embrace the Rocky legacy and forge its own identity.
Thanks in large part to Jordan's straight down the line character and the film's largely realistic tone (even though it struggles with injecting some unnecessary melodrama in its back half) Creed emerges as a relative triumph, rather than ending in a major KO for anyone involved.
To all intents and purposes, Creed is the seventh Rocky film and follows the path you’ve come to expect these boxing films would do. Turning his back on a corporate job to pursue his dream of being a fighter, Adonis Johnson (Jordan) tracks down Rocky Balboa (an understated and suitably ageing Sylvester Stallone) to see if he will train him. But Balboa’s reticent, crippled by the beating that life’s given him (one of the best lines sees Stallone intoning that Time takes everyone out, it’s undefeated) and isn’t keen to get back into that world.
Creed works best as a film that revels in its realism.
While its second half piles on the melodrama a little too hard and the narrative conflicts border on contrivances rather than feeling organic, the film’s first half is nothing short of sensational, grounded as they are by the wearying realities of life and Coogler's virtuoso camera touches within the ring.
Stallone (in the first Rocky film he's not written) underplays his hand and goes for poignancy rather than over-blown emoting (but a later development for his character stretches belief too far); as a result, Stallone’s wearied Balboa is a real presence in the film from beginning to end - even if he is saddled with an unwelcome and unnecessary story that's poorly executed in the second half.
Equally, Michael B Jordan pulls together a great mix of bravado, gusto and pure terror as he edges into the reality of what he wants. All through out the film, it's clear that Creed's enemy isn't the one-note Liverpool boxing champion facing one last fight, but his own expectations, his own self-doubt and his inability to embrace his own legacy and all that it entails as he tries to make it on his own.
A couple of moments in Creed see Jordan really soar and a couple of moments don't fire as perhaps they should or could. (One sequence involving bikes, Creed, a street and Rocky is almost laughable)
Sadly, the underwriting and effective dumping of the burgeoning relationship with his neighbour Bianca (a singer losing her hearing played with empathy by Tessa Thompson) affects part of the film and feels rather unwelcomely like that side of the film was knocked out at the early script level. Also, a plot thread with Rocky's former gym manager dangles deliciously before losing the momentum it had early on.
But it's Cooglar's execution of an at times rough around the edges story which help Creed to soar.
One fight sequence is shot all in one take with the camera inveigling its way unobtrusively into the ring and works wonders at bringing the emotion and brutality of the fighters to life. Complete with shouts and noises from behind in the cinema, it's a bravura execution that exceeds the obligatory cornball and OTT final fight that's so cliched, overblown and yet incredibly redolent of this pugilistic genre.
Creed effectively shames Jake Gyllenhaal's leaden Southpaw from earlier this year by constantly underplaying its own hand and realistically playing out its drama against a muted and almost melancholy backdrop. There are swathes of nostalgia for the series and yet it's also smart enough to not wallow in these moments.
Crucially, it ends up seeing the Rocky franchise unexpectedly re-vitalised; it emerges from its own shadow and against all the odds, ends up being this year's could be critical - and hopefully - box office contender.