Beyond the grand achievements that Creed can claim, the fact it rings genuine pathos from plot elements of Rocky IV, the one with Rocky defeating Communism and the robot butler, is a goddamn miracle. It does that in large by only hinting at those events; by and large you not having had to watch any of the previous Rocky movies to enjoy Creed, but having done so gives the smaller details of this story a large sense of scale and emotion. Creed does what a reboot should do, and so few are capable of doing, which is to honour the series that it is a part of, but still chart its own path and create its own identity.
That is largely due to the pairing of writer/director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan. Working together again after Coogler’s great debut Fruitvale Station, he navigates this big project in such a way that you wouldn’t believe this is only his second film. So many boxing movies take liberally from Rocky and Raging Bull, and whilst does the former out of necessity (it is a Rocky movie after all) and Raging Bull sparingly (the last fight is a fresh coat of paint on that faux news footage/cinema verite/long slow-mo shot at crucial moments formula), its where this movie finds its own voice that the movie shines.
There is a centrepiece fight at the centre of this movie which all takes place in one shot. Now, long takes are usually the one critics take note of and make saliva, but as of late I’ve actually been tired of the bravado that calls attention to itself without actually helping the story in anyway. But this is different. It puts you in the centre of the match in a way rarely felt in boxing movies, and the fact it is a long shot slowly creeps up on you as you become as tired as the film’s lead. Its something new; exhilarating; bravado filmmaking that doesn’t feel the need to flaunt itself as such.
The Rocky trademarks we know and love are there too of course. I mean, after all, who doesn’t love a training montage? But it isn’t used as a crutch for lack of inspiration (which I have to admit, some the new Star Wars movie felt like that). One example of this is the fact that it uses Conti’s iconic score very sparingly, but when he does, man does it make you want to take a run. This is the type of filmmaking we want to see in new up and coming talents.
Speaking of talents, Michael B. Jordan continues to shine and gets over the tiny hump that was Fantastic Four. As a character Adonis Creed is the mix of his father’s both real and surrogate. He has the anger and the short temper of Apollo Creed, but the loveable and friendly demeanour of Rocky, particularly in the scenes where they work together and build each other up (and in the movie’s light comic touches). In the first movie, the Rocky character was a struggling, slightly dim boxer given an opportunity beyond his station. Adonis is also given that opportunity, but by contrast he is smart, comes from a wealthy upbringing (after hard times at juvenile detention). By the end of the film his story arc is essentially complete – shocker in this era of sequel baiting! – but would still want to follow whatever direction this character takes. It helps that, of all the Rocky beats the movie hits, it chooses to keep what for me is the most crucial one, and without spoiling that, it’s the one that get’s to the heart of what these sport’s narratives are really about.
At times I wish this part of his origin was focused on more. His relationship with the woman who raised him, Apollo Creed’s wife looking after the offspring of her husband’s affair, could have made for some really interesting drama. But by the nature of him going to Philadelphia this part is played at the sides, and as a result there is not much interaction between them (though there is a moving payoff to her watching his fights for afar). It is a little systematic of the movie’s slower buildup; it really picks up when he get’s to that restaurant to try and convince Rambo to train him.
Which brings us to Stallone, and the iconic character and six film franchise he is handing off to new filmmakers. With the exception of Rocky V, I like each of them in some way, and here Stallone builds on the ennui the character took in Rocky Balboa and progresses his character to what in the first movie was the Mickey role. Now having lost both Adrian and Pauly, he finds friendship and purpose in teaching the son of his nemesis and ultimate friend Apollo. It’s weird for me to type the words “get ready for Sylvester Stallone to win the Oscar”, but I feel it to be true. Not just because that would make for the best story, but like the original Rocky wins it is well and truly earned. When the film reveals the details of the personal fight that Rocky is going through, I was close to bawling. Seven movies later, I still love the oaf.
If you’ve seen any boxing or sports movie ever, you know how the story is going to play out. But unlike this year’s other boxing movie Southpaw, it makes up for the majority of that with building its own foundations on a classic formula, and in some ways the film is elevated because of those building blocks. But like the new Star Wars movie, there’s some smaller very specific cliches that just plain bug me. For example, the love interests meet each other through a disturbance of loud music in a residential building; it’s amazing how this is actually a “thing”. I know that is a small “thing”, but its those kind of elements that make the romance feel like an afterthought, thing we have to have in since Adrian and Rocky’s relationship was seen as the heart of those films. Thankfully, that does tie in to Bianca’s character, being a musician with progressive hearing loss, Tessa Thompson sells the hell out of what in most hands would have been a superfluous roll (after this and Dear White People has my complete attention), and her chemistry with Michael B. Jordan is instant and appealing.
Creed succeeds in its own underdog story, being the film that no-one expected to triumph and succeeding as the best film in the Rocky series since the first one. At the very least it has some of the best fighting of any films in this franchise, and with help of Coogler, Jordan and Thompson there is stories in these Philadelphia streets to tell. As the series has told us, don’t count out a true fighter. They’ll come to surprise you.
P.S: Thought it would be fun to do two rankings
Ranking of Rocky Movies
3. Rocky Balboa
4. Rocky III
5. Rocky II
6. Rocky IV
7. Rocky V
Ranking of 2015 Reboots
1. Mad Max Fury Road
3. Star Wars: Ep VII – The Force Awakens
4. Jurassic World
Didn’t see Terminator Giantcis. Don’t think I intend to.