By Josh Melo
Striking a near perfect balance between classic Rocky and a modern coming of age tale, Creed is an emotionally expressive tale of adversity propelled to even further heights by outstanding performances. Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan have made magic once again and Sylvester Stallone has never been better.
When I first heard about Creed I was reminded about how much the Rocky films meant to me. I remember sitting in the basement with my dad watching all five (at the time) films back to back and having one of the best times of my young life. As a kid I was completely caught up in the Italian Stallion’s story of self-betterment and survival. Watching Creed brought me right back to that basement. This movie may not look or sound like Rocky but it sure as hell feels like one.
Invoking the best the franchise has to offer, Creed features the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed forsaking a life of luxury in favour of fighting his way to a life he deems worth living. Vying to prove that he is more than his name, Adonis leaves the home of his foster mother in LA to seek out the long retired Rocky Balboa in the hopes that an arduous yet prosperous life as a fighter awaits him.
As far as reboots go, the current Hollywood mantra is to take a beloved title and slap it on a shell of whatever made the original film so special (see Total Recall, Conan or The Karate Kid). Thankfully, this is not the case with Creed. Rocky is as iconic a role as one could think of and with such a storied franchise reinvention of any kind will be met with immediate hesitation. Luckily, Ryan Coogler handles the material as if he had written the prior films himself. The Rocky films have always done a spectacular job portraying the rags to riches story of Balboa, whether that be through tone, setting or theme. Coogler manages to capture that same essence but infuse it with an urban and current feel. You won’t hear any 80’s rock ballads (though an “Eye of the Tiger” wouldn’t have gone unappreciated) but rap classics like “Hail Mary” by 2pac and original titles by Creed’s own Tessa Thompson grant the film a unique sound that offers the same kind of emotional through line the Rocky films were known for.
The original Rocky saga managed to spark a sense of inspiration in its viewership. Watching someone achieve the impossible through deceptively difficult chicken chasing would have even the most stonehearted audience smiling by the time the credits rolled. Creed somehow manages to be just as rousing while doubling down on the emotion. Thanks in large part to the monumental performances by its core cast.
Michael B. Jordan has already proven himself a force to be reckoned with in the world of acting (Fantastic Four notwithstanding) thanks to appearances in Fruitvale Station and Chronicle. His turn as Adonis Creed further proves that Jordan is more than capable of leading a film (and potentially a franchise). Adonis isn’t as inherently likable as a Rocky Balboa but Jordan’s nuanced performance is more than layered enough for us to understand the mind behind Adonis’ often-brash nature. Which in turn is bound to win audiences over to his side.
There to help cement Adonis as a representative of the millennial generation is Tessa Thompson’s Bianca. An aspiring artist waiting to hit it big, Bianca and Adonis represent the current crop of youth venturing forth into the workforce. Opting to pursue avenues of passion over pragmatism. This underlying plotline stands strong enough that, if given the opportunity, probably could have made for a great film on its own. Yet it never becomes so prominent as to detract from the core narrative.
Not to be outdone by the newcomers is Sylvester Stallone himself. The ever-present charm is still abundant but Stallone offers a much more grounded and poignant performance than his past turns as the character. Stallone’s delayed one-liners and oddball expressions make their return but with them come a sense of sagacity and prudence Rocky has never been known for. When the script demands harsher subject matter Stallone rises to the challenge, tackling his failing health issues with a gravity rarely seen from the actor. Sylvester Stallone and consequently the Italian Stallion have never been stronger.
While there will never be another “Adrian!” the fights are hard hitting and emotional enough to stand up with the best in the franchise. Jordan is in prime physical condition and with the kinetic shooting style Coogler has opted for; the crunch of each punch can be felt. The final bout of the film isn’t quite as memorable as either of the Rocky/Apollo fights but that has more to do with “pretty” Ricky Conlan as a villain than the expert choreography. Which isn’t to say he is a poor character, just that he is designed more as an obstacle for Adonis to overcome than a foil to the hero. In any case, if all you want is high-octane boxing, Creed has you covered.
The story of Creed never feels forced or tacked on, “genuine” sums it up nicely. Ryan Coogler stays true to the Rocky structure without becoming slave to it. Mirroring the “from nothing to something” narrative that made up the first film, Creed turns into something much grander. Broaching myriad themes like age, illness and race while maintaining a focus on the sports drama that it is is no easy task, yet it is one that the team behind the film have accomplished with absolute composure. People are seldom treated to a film that can simultaneously have them on the verge of tears while holding back a laugh. Creed does that on multiple occasions.
It has been 40 years since the first Rocky film. Most would think that a franchise that old would have worn out its welcome. But if Creed is anything to go by, Adonis is just getting started. Stallone has never been better in the role, Jordan is poised to do a stellar job taking over the franchise and with a story so resonant and meaningful, it is perhaps the most well rounded entry in the series to date. Creed is as close as one can get to the perfect spin-off and I cannot wait for more.
Creed gets an outstanding 9.5/10.
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