Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson
Let me make it perfectly clear, I have never watched a single Rocky movie. You might be thinking, “why the hell are you watching/reviewing the Rocky spin-off movie Creed then?” You may be right to resent me so. However, having never seen Rocky Balboa in action before (except for the occasional YouTube clip of Sly Stallone running up some steps with the iconic Rocky music blaring away in the background), would put me among a significant proportion of the film’s audience. And Ryan Coogler’s Creed is certainly a movie that you can thoroughly enjoy without having to watch countless Rocky sequels. That said, I’m definitely going to be watching all the Rocky films after having seen Creed, just to fill in the sizeable gaps in my Balboa knowledge.
Michael B. Jordan is Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnson, the illegitimate son of the once undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. Much like his father before him, Donnie feels a great pull towards boxing. Despite having been taken in by Apollo’s widow, Donnie doesn’t feel at home in a desk job, even with a promotion, so he heads for his father’s old stomping ground, Philadelphia, to train with Apollo’s once rival and good friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). With Rocky’s guidance, Donnie strives to make a name for himself and to step out of his father’s imposing shadow.
Time takes everybody out. Time’s undefeated.
Despite being one of the most cinematic sports, boxing films are always just a couple of steps away from entering ‘the cliché zone’. Take 2015’s Southpaw, starring a beefed-up Jake Gyllenhaal, for example, who’s plot you could easily piece together from watching the trailer alone. This is not the case with Coogler’s Creed. The very best boxing movies always succeed in keeping you on your toes. In many ways, watching Creed’s plot unfold, is like watching a boxer shadow-box: frantically ducking and diving, constantly moving, making sure you can’t predict his next move. This is what makes Creed such an enjoyable film to watch. You never know how it’s going to finish.
What’s more, the film is backed up by a wonderful lead in Michael B. Jordan, who’s already proved his considerable acting ability in films like Fruitvale Station and Chronicle. Hopefully Creed will help him move past the awful Fantastic Four (but we won’t dwell on that). He has a commanding screen presence, and certainly has the muscles for the role. Unfortunately for him he’s pitted again real-life British boxer Tony Bellew, known in the film as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan. Despite being a real-life champion in the ring, the Liverpudlian doesn’t set the world alight with his acting ability. Yet Creed and Conlan’s final fight is one of the film’s real highlights, a real nail-biting battle between two great boxers: Adonis Creed, the Rookie with a name, and Ricky Conlan, the Champion with game (and a prison sentence looming over his head). There were echoes of watching Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons’ gruelling confrontations in Whiplash (which is basically one of the best ever boxing movies – just minus the boxing).
That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face.
But you can’t talk about this Rocky spin-off movie without mentioning ‘Sly’ Sylvester Stallone, who delivers the performances of a lifetime. Say what you will about him, the guy understands Rocky better than anybody. He did write the character, but it’s more than that; Stallone shows a side to his acting that we haven’t seen before: his maturity. Finally he’s playing a character who’s acting his age. He looks haggard, weather beaten, old, as he should do, especially since his character’s experienced a lot of beatings in the ring. He displays a range of emotion that we haven’t from him in a while, reminding us that this is the man who wrote and starred as both Rocky and Rambo. Sylvester Stallone is a true Hollywood legend and this film reminds us of that fact. He’s playing a real human being, with real emotions and a lot of baggage, and his performance is genuinely moving at times.
Creed succeeds in what Adonis is trying to do: to step out from its predecessor’s shadow. Despite being a spin-off it is also its own vehicle, something that the franchise can build upon. Having said that, it does use the occasional boxing movie trope, but you can forgive it that due to the film’s excellent the performances and the plot’s constant twists and turns. There’s something in Creed for everybody, even to the uninitiated in Rocky lore. Now excuse me while I hunt down all six previous Rocky movies. I must have them on VHS somewhere…