A KNOCK OUT FILM
As a whole, the Rocky film series, iconic in its own right, has lived a long and prestige shelf life in the illustrious world of movies. Debuting back in 1976 with the first installment (Rocky), viewers were introduced to the world of boxing, with an American dream “rags to riches” tale of local Philadelphian native Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa, played by actor Sylvester Stallone. Made for roughly over 1 million dollars and shot relatively quickly (28 days), Rocky went on to become a sleeper hit and, like its main character, went onto to become a famous, founding a feature franchise. From there, the series continued forward with Rocky II 1979, Rocky III 1982, Rocky IV in 1985, and Rocky V in 1990. The franchise was then revived again 2006 with the film Rocky Balboa, acting as “final chapter” of sorts to the character of Rocky and to the franchise itself. However, Warner Bros. Pictures isn’t ready to end the series as the studio once again returns to the boxing world with the Rocky spinoff / continuation film Creed. Does this sixth sequel stand tall and proud with its predecessors or is it another modernized “reboot” to an old movie franchise.
Growing up in and out of the foster care system, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) fins a home with Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), the wife of deceased boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Through the years, Adonis struggles to try and find his identity as Apollo’s son, personally fixiated on a boxing career to accost his past. Leaving behind a privellieged life in LA, Adonis travels to Philadelphia, and contacts ex-boxing champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), hoping to entice the aging legend to train him. Reluctantly, Rocky accepts, returns to the world of boxing to help his friend’s estranged son, with the pair forming a cohesive bond of friendship and mutal trust. While his training with Rocky heats up and a sudden courtship with singer/ songwriter Bianca (Tessa Thompson) blossoms, Adonis is soon challenged by the hothead English boxing champion Rick “Pretty” Conlan (Tony Bellew), helping the wayward Creed to step out from his father’s illustrious shadow.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I remember growing up watching various parts of the Rocky films as my dad was huge fan of the movies (especially Rocky I, Rocky II, and Rocky IV). As I grew more intrigued into movies in general, I began to start watching the Rocky movies and grew to appreciate them. Like many, after watching 2006’s Rocky Balboa, I thought the franchise was done (in a good and proper way), returning to the roots of the franchise and respectfully sending off the aging boxing champion. Upon hearing that they were going to do another Rocky movie in 2015, I was a little skeptical about it and then hearing it was about Apollo Creed’s son began to think it was going to be more of a spinoff film that tried to carry the identity of the franchise that was its own entity. However, after viewing the movie, I was wrong as Creed acts as both continuation and new entry point to the Rocky franchise and delivers an awesome knockout punch of film to fans and viewers alike.
Ryan Coogler, who previously directed the movie Fruitvale Station, is the director ringleader of Creed and does a masterfully job at it. Coogler seems to respects the source material from the past Rocky movies and treats the film Creed as an extension rather than simple a “reboot”. That’s not to say that Coogler finds new ways to make Creed have its own separate identity, but there’s definitely plenty of Rocky nostalgia within the film. The screenplay, done by Coogler and newcomer Aaron Covington, keeps the spirt of the Rocky cannon with a modernize rendition of the classic “Coming of age” story for Adonis Creed, while branching off to continue the on-going story of Rocky Balboa. In truth, while the boxing premise is prevalent to each feature, the Rocky movies have always been about intense characterization mixture of struggle and self-confidence. To that end, Creed is definitely a crowd pleaser (for the Rocky legacy) and to its new audience members.
Similar to past Rocky movies, the time spent in the boxing ring is kinetic with a sense of “In-your face” style approach. Creed certainly doesn’t shy away from expressing the brutality of boxing, with the movie projecting realistic violence of the sports; characters getting battered and bruised and plenty of blood being shed. These sequences in Creed are both explosive and exciting, with a beautiful choreographing between the performances and camera lens. Coogler’s cinematographer Maryse Alberti throws in some great cinematic angles into movie with some nifty slow-motion moments, tracking shots of the urban inner city, and some great frenetic shots in the ring (note: the first “big” match with Adonis looks as if it was done in one single shot).
Perhaps the only negative criticism I have about Creed is in its inherit storytelling of its genre. Like I said in my review for the movie Southpaw, the sports under dog / comeback redemption movies have been all around for quite some time and have been done and redone countless times. Thus, Creed’s narration is overtly familiar to many viewers out there, playing the standard / common tropes of this genre to a point where it becomes almost predictable. I mean the Rocky movies are a classic staple in this genre and Creed, a spin-off from those same loins, follows the same cinematic path (which is understandable). Personally (am I pretty sure a lot of people out there felt the same), I knew that Creed was going to be like this, so I didn’t expect too much from it. In short, those expecting a story that was completely new and original, will be a little disappointed with Creed.
Truthfully, I think that the casts in Creed is excellent, held together by its two central leads that truly work great on-screen. Actor Michael B. Jordan is great as the title character (Adonis Creed) in Creed. Jordan, who’s filmography work includes Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, and Fantastic Four (the new 2015 one that hardly no one likes) certainly proves his acting talents, giving Adonis a complex and theatrical persona that’s full of an array of emotions (a mixture of anger, determination, and vulnerability). Jordan combines all this threw his steely gaze and physical dexterity and animalistic prowess that’s beautiful displayed in and out of the boxing ring. In short, Jordan’s Adonis is a well-rounded and layered character that has the potential to carry his own franchise in the foreseeable future.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa has (for many years now) become an iconic character in the illustrious history of movies; being both idolized and a parody of sorts (the character has been a comical figure to poke fun of in various media projects). Fortunately, as I mentioned above, Creed seems to return Rocky to a more grounded position, while also allowing Stallone to enrich the seasoned character. Stallone still brings his own personal charisma to the proceedings, but also now allows Rocky to have his own sagely wit and “words of wisdom” through some offbeat (and well-timed) facial expressions and one-liners, which I think Stallone pulls off brilliantly done. Coinciding with that, when things become “rocky” for Rocky, Stallone shifts into a powerful and sincere dramatic performance that makes him you believe and “root” for the character of Rocky Balboa all over again.
Behind those two actors, actress Tessa Thompson does great as her character of Bianca. She’s sorts of acts like Rocky’s Adriane, a female love interest for the main protagonist, but Thompson’s Bianca has a good connection with Jordan’s Adonis as well as having a very interesting backstory. The only thing bad is that her backstory is giving enough attention in the film (perhaps further examination of her character will be discussed in future films). The other noteworthy female actor besides Thompson is the expectional Phylicia Rashad as Mary-Anne Creed. Shame she couldn’t have more scenes in the movie. Real life boxer Tony “Bomber” Bellow provides a solid opponent / villain as Ricky “Pretty” Conlan, landing a character that brings a worth adversary for Adonis to face-off against. In more minor supporting roles, Scottish actor Graham McTavish plays Tommy Holiday, Conlan’s manager, and Wood Harris plays Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton, a local owner of a LA boxer ring.
The cinematic spirt of Rocky Balboa lives on in Creed. Coogler’s feature film in the long running sport boxing franchise excels at being both the seventh chapter in the Rocky series as well as fresh starting point for a potential spinoff series. While the movie can’t escape the inherit narration of its own genre, Creed packs a punch with a fresh new (modern) angle, while still retaining the awareness of its source material. Adding some intense boxing scenes and some truly stellar character performances, makes Creed a fantastic film to watch this holiday season. Personally, I loved this movie and should be seeing by longtime Rocky fans as well as casual moviegoers. In the end, you’ll root, you’ll cheer, and probably shed a tear or two as you watch Rocky and Adonis fight their own personal battles in and out of the boxing ring. Hears to hoping there’s a “Round 2” to Creed in the foreseeable future.
4.5 out of 5 (Highly Recommended)