An incredibly entertaining and surprisingly three dimensional take on the Rocky franchise, and one that is sure to elevate its director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B Jordan to worthy recognition regardless of the latter’s recent Marvel misstep; not to mention proving (if it was ever a doubt) the acting ability of Sylvester Stallone.
Gritty boxing movies are nothing new; this year alone we’ve had Antoine Fuqua’s flawed but superbly acted and vividly realized Southpaw. 2010’s The Fighter and Creed’s (also surprisingly-not-bad) predecessor Rocky Balboa are also still reasonably fresh in the memory. Given that competition (and the inevitable cries of barrel scraping/ rebooting), Creed really needed to come out fighting. Not only does it do this, but it arguably KO’s its peers and could well be the best in the series since the original Rocky.
Refraining as much as possible from cheesy montages and carefully navigating the minefield cliché, Creed feels very down to earth, human, and grounded in a reality not seen since the earliest days of the franchise. In some ways it could be said to emulate that movie; located again to the working class streets of Philadelphia and giving a hungry young buck a shot at the big time. Only this time the protagonist is fighting not against economic inopportunity; but the long shadow of his father: the ill-fate Apollo Creed. Creed is first and foremost about the search for identity, as both Adonis Creed -and the film itself- attempt to carve out their own niche in the world.
Some superb work by Jordan (talk of a robbed Oscar nomination would not be a stretch) anchors the film; as well as fantastic, almost revelatory support from Stallone himself. There is also a noteworthy turn from Tessa Thompson as Creed’s neighbour and love interest; a role that brings out his humanity without any clichéd ringside nagging. Their relationship is a meeting of minds and she too is reasonably fleshed-out character with her own life issues and struggles to deal with. Provided he stays in her corner, she’ll be in his.
The fights themselves are well executed and pretty exciting, drawing on the visual style of previous Rocky movies but combining them with a much grittier look, reflecting all that’s been learned in subsequent boxing films. One such fight appears to be filmed in a single audacious take. The inclusion of real-life fighters once again ensures authenticity; and England’s own Tony Bellew doesn’t do too bad in his acting role. The montages (of course there are montages!) are also stylishly executed and not out of place among the drama- keeping the cheese factor to a welcome minimum. Director Ryan Coogler has gone to considerable effort to tell a decent story with rounded characters first, and a rousing Rocky film second. Michael B Jordan is simply sensational; three dimensional, flawed, tough and in phenomenal shape- but with a likeability absent from Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope; and Sly has managed to imbue his iconic character with gravitas, dignity and humanity that surpasses anything he’s done before. Terrific music completes the package.