By: Samar Khan
Who would have thought it would take over 30 years and someone besides Sylvester Stallone writing a story that didn’t star Stallone’s iconic character to finally get that long-awaited great Rocky sequel? If I were alive 30 years ago and a betting man, I guarantee you wouldn’t catch me betting on these odds. After trudging through the good (Rocky II; Rocky IV) and suffering through the bad (Rocky V), we are finally given a film that manages to nearly reach the heights of the original. Ladies and gentleman, other esteemed readers that do not ascribe to such lofty terms, let’s get ready to RRRRUMMMMMMMMMBLEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
Creed. Just as with the original, the film is named after its lead; in this case, we have the ever-loveable and uber-talented Michael B. Jordan playing the role of the son of Balboa’s legendary opponent from the first film, Apollo Creed. For those wondering: no, this is not THAT Michael Jordan nor is he related to THAT Michael Jordan. This Michael B. Jordan, playing Adonis Johnson/Creed, continues to excel in almost every role that has been thrown at him. Excellent since his days in the underrated Chronicle or the very distressing Fruitvale Station, he managed to be the only redeemable part of the travesty that was Fantastic Four (Fant4stic?) which tells you as much as you need to about his qualities as an actor. Anyway, back to the film. He carries the film on his shoulders as the illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed and realizes his true passion is boxing. Cue nearly two hours of training montages interspersed with fantastic character building segments and you have what should be the prototypical sequel for Rocky. Kind of disheartening how it took this long for this formula to be realized and brought to moviegoers.
A quick point as you continue to read the review: the film plays up how Jordan’s character goes by Adonis Johnson but adopts Creed as his surname when the identity of his father is discovered. As the review goes on, I’ll be referring to the character as Johnson/Creed so as to ensure there is no confusion.
In terms of main supporting roles, Creed was limited in terms of the amount of people that gained meaningful screen time which was a wise decision. Stallone after years of making audiences wish he would just retire due to gems such as The Expendables series (*cue intense fits of coughing*) is simply wonderful as a retired veteran, initially reticent about taking the job of training Jordan’s Adonis. It’s not something Stallone has been known for since the original Rocky but the way he convincingly portrays a man that witnessed the loss of those closest to him along the way to becoming Philadelphia’s favourite son lingers with you long after you have seen the film. Suffice it to say, there is more than one moment that will have audiences emotional. His relationship with Jordan’s character grows realistically and organically on screen, investing the viewer in Johnson/Creed’s journey and admiring the “passing of the torch” that occurs in the conclusion of the film. In fact, I’ll proclaim it boldly: this is Stallone’s best work since the original Rocky (no, Rambo is not an acting tour-de-force) and should be watched on that basis alone if you are unsold on the talented Jordan.
Tessa Thompson plays Jordan’s girlfriend, Bianca, and performs admirably. For a film about the relationship between the two male stars, she was never going to play an integral role; credit her for still finding a way to make an impression on the viewer, as a hearing impaired musician that still finds a way to make an impact on the growing Johnson/Creed. Phylicia Rashad plays the wife of Apollo Creed, who finds out about the living conditions of her husband’s illegitimate son and brings him into her own home. It takes a special sort of actress to play a woman that is willing to ignore her husband’s infidelities and be weary about watching her adopted son following a career that could kill him as it did his father, but Rashad is up to the challenge. If there is one complaint about her character, it’s that she doesn’t receive enough screen time in the second half. Despite her limited role in the latter half of the film, which focuses entirely on the buildup to the climactic bout and some moving plot revelations, it’s a testament to the talent of the lead pair and the direction of Ryan Coogler that her lack of a presence in the second half is overshadowed.
Speaking of Coogler, he straddles the line between homage and remake just right. From the training montages and inclusion of Stallone’s character alone, the homages are very on-the-nose but tastefully executed and fun. The parallels of the journey from the start to the final bout are satisfying to witness, never feeling like a retread of the original film but still having that tinge of Rocky flavour to it.
In speaking of Coogler’s direction, there is one thing that helps elevate this film above all the others in the series, potentially even the original. That concerns the boxing scenes themselves, which are gloriously presented with the visceral quality one expects to see in an actual HBO match. Enhancing the quality of the boxing and adding greatly to the immersion was Coogler’s decision to shoot quite a few scenes throughout the film and outside the ring in one take. Yes, you read that right. There is nothing more satisfying that watching two men beat each other to a pulp in a three-minute boxing round with every punch and duck highlighted, take a seat to refresh, and get back to the battle WITHOUT THE CAMERA CHANGING TAKES ONCE THROUGHOUT. For those of you that were underwhelmed by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw and its run-of-the-mill boxing presentation, Creed gives you a greater appreciation for the intricacies and ramifications of the sport.
Having mentioned the directional choices that were visible from watching the film, special credit needs to be given to the team that Coogler surrounded himself with that assisted in making the movie feel special. The cinematography by Maryse Alberti was marvelous, with the boxing scenes and a certain scene copied nearly exactly from the first film and used in the conclusion of this one fully illustrating her quality work. The soundtrack, helmed by Ludwig Goransson, was nothing extraordinary but shone when called upon, particularly in the ring. The sound felt as crisp as you would expect a fight to be and the proper usage of music where it was needed (mostly during the training montages) meant there were no complaints.
One major aspect of the film that a boxing novice such as myself still greatly appreciated was the use of the actual HBO boxing crew during the boxing segments in this film. From Michael Buffer making his legendary “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE” proclamations to Max Kellerman being on commentary, the film was better off for it. Not often can you say that a film felt as real as this did; for all the good a film such as Warrior did for bringing MMA to moviegoers, it lacked the authenticity that Creed’s use of HBO brought here. For those familiar with the UFC, former cutman “Stitch” is prominent here, playing the same role for Johnson/Creed that he did for MMA stars such as Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Despite not speaking much, his presence alone added greatly to the “authentic” factor that the boxing segments brought.
In closing, Creed follows through with the same message that prior Rocky films have had: Loss is inevitable, and dealing with them is how one grows as a person. From the aforementioned hearing loss that Bianca suffers from that she tries to use to fuel her to become a better musician to Rocky himself having lost his wife and another plot point I will not mention here, it’s evident throughout. Therefore, it goes without saying that it would be a great loss for you, dear readers, to not watch this film; it will be a fun ride and something that can be enjoyed by both fans of the series or even newbies. Stallone was that good that, at his age, you can realistically see him garnering awards buzz for his performance. How often can that be said? That quality acting from Stallone embodies this film: excellent throughout and in all aspects.
After careful consideration, The Film Lawyers have graced the film with an A-.