Creed (2016) – Movie Review
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad & Tony Bellow
Music: Ludwig Göransson
Release Date: January 15th 2016
The “Rocky” franchise, much like its titular main character, just cannot stay down. The original 1976 film, made on a budget of $1M, ultimately wound up becoming the biggest financial hit of the year earning $225M as well as Academy Awards for “Best Picture”, “Best Director” and “Best Film Editing” whilst also being nominated for seven other awards in six categories. It’s practically the definition of a “sleeper hit”. The movie spawned numerous sequels, most of them good, all of them campy and then the franchise ran out of steam with ‘Rocky V‘ with even Sylvester Stallone, the star and writer of all the films and the director of the sequels, admitting that it was a disappointing conclusion.
Then, 16 years later, Stallone makes a come-back with ‘Rocky Balboa‘ giving us the best instalment in the franchise since the original and giving the series the ending that it truly deserved (whilst also wiping ‘Rocky V‘ from continuity). But, like the tagline of ‘Rocky Balboa‘ said; “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” and it would seem that Rocky’s story isn’t over yet. 40 years after the first movie, we have ‘Creed‘ which comes to us from an entirely new creative team and director Ryan Coogler taking over the series. After directing the astonishingly good ‘Fruitvale Station‘, Coogler is also bringing that movie’s star, Michael B. Jordan with him as the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers in the first four movies. Does this franchise still have some fight left in it or should Rocky and co. stay down this time?
Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (B. Jordan) was a problem child and got into fights at Youth Facilities before being adopted by Apollo Creed’s widow, Mary Anne who reveals that Adonis was Creed’s son from an affair he had before Adonis was born. Adonis, wanting to become a fighter like his dad, travels from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in order to get in touch with his father’s old rival, Rocky Balboa (Stallone). Balboa reluctantly trains Adonis and prepares him for a fight with “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Bellow), the light heavyweight champion of the world who is being sent to prison soon and wanting one last big fight. All the while, Adonis starts to pursue a relationship with local singer Bianca (Thompson) and Rocky has to fight his most powerful rival yet; his own mortality.
Despite the new creative team with this being the first movie in the “Rocky” franchise to not be written by Sylvester Stallone, ‘Creed‘ still has a lot of the hallmark elements from the franchise and the iconography is very much intact. Those who have any attachment to the franchise may get a little choked up seeing that Mickey’s gym is still standing and still being used to train up-and-coming boxers. Adrian’s restaurant is still being run by Rocky in her memory and he still visits her grave to read her the paper sat on a chair he stores in the tree branches. But he also visits the grave of Paulie, his brother-in-law as it’s revealed that he died in 2012 and Rocky leaves a bottle of Paulie’s favourite alcohol on his grave. A 40-year franchise will naturally retain iconography over the years, but ‘Creed‘ manages to utilise that in organic ways as opposed to feeling like its exploiting them to pander to fans for shallow nostalgia.
But ‘Creed‘, in-keeping with prior instalments in the franchise is very dramatic with lots of gut-wrenching sequences but also very funny as there are some great, witty lines of dialogue from writers Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington who deliver a very human story. There’s even a scene where Adonis and Rocky are at a pre-fight press conference and the one of the first things Rocky does it point out how beautiful the interior of the building is. This is a new team, but they clearly GET these characters and this franchise.
But this isn’t just a re-make of ‘Rocky‘ for a new generation, though I can imagine this movie appealing to a fresh fanbase. Instead of having “The Italian Stallion” scraping by as a loan shark and a prize-fighter getting a shot at the big-time, we have someone who comes from a wealthy family by inheritance and chooses to leave it all behind as well as his family name in order to prove he can make it on his own. Adonis Johnson abandons the surname Creed so he doesn’t get any free rides and can be judged as a fighter by his own abilities instead of being compared to his father, the once-heavyweight champion of the world. Although why Adonis would go to the former-trainer of his father despite trying to forge his own path is a question the movie doesn’t quite acknowledge.
Although it may seem unfair, since ‘Creed‘ is a spiritual sequel to the “Rocky” franchise, comparisons are easy to make and while Adonis is a strong protagonist and an interesting character, he ain’t no Rocky Balboa. It’s a lot easier to root for the underdog with nothing but a good heart and a fighting spirit then it is to root for someone who has everything and chooses to not have it so they can fight. No, ‘Creed‘ is not trying to make Adonis into Rocky and the two are drastically different. But one is more interesting than the other.
But Michael B. Jordan is still terrific in the role and does a great job at carrying the movie. B. Jordan has been great before, flying under the radar slightly in ‘Chronicle‘ and ‘Fruitvale Station‘ but with ‘Creed‘ he’s truly “arrived” into the mainstream and offers up a character who is not only physically intimidating but wanting to push himself further and better himself as a person. He’s standoffish and a lot of the conflict in the 3rd act feels a bit contrived as Adonis acts out of character, but apart from that he’s an endearing protagonist.
But the show-stealer here is definitely Rocky Balboa as Sylvester Stallone once again slips into this role after a 10-year gap with ease. Stallone was clearly born to play this part and it’s wonderful to see this friendly, immensely likeable character on screen again. He’s a local celebrity in Philadelphia but he’s still down-to-earth and humble, living in a small home on his own after the death of Paulie. He’s looking for purpose as he’s too old to fight and Adonis gives him purpose again. But there’s something bitter-sweet about seeing this character evolve and change over 40 years, make friends, find love and slowly lose them through the passage of time. His trainer died in ‘Rocky III‘, his best friend, Apollo died in ‘Rocky IV‘ (incidentally, we find out who won the friendly fight at the end of ‘Rocky III‘), he lost his wife to cancer before the events of ‘Rocky Balboa‘ and now he’s lost his brother-in-law. Rocky is alone and is aware of his own mortality and that’s a fascinating way to approach a character who has always been able to overcome even the most overwhelming opponents.
“If I could take everything that was good and put it into a bowl or something and say ‘Hey, here, I’d like to buy one more day with my wife’, I’d do it. I would die a happy man right then. Not gonna happen. So, everything I got is moved on and I’m here.”
And Sylvester Stallone has been raking in numerous accolades for his performance in ‘Creed‘, winning a Golden Globe for the first time since the first ‘Rocky‘ movie as well as being nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” at the 88th Academy Awards (which he will probably win) and he truly is great in the movie. Towards the end of the film, when Rocky’s inner-conflict starts to manifest itself, it’s gut-wrenching and I actually wish the movie spent a bit more time on this aspect because it’s a more interesting arc than what Adonis goes through. It’s also interesting how his arc runs parallel to Adonis’ love interest, Bianca who is a singer-songwriter who is slowly going deaf and wants to embrace the now.
If there’s one weak-link in the cast, it’s Adonis’ rival; “Pretty” Ricky Conlan from Liverpool, England. His gimmick is that he’s English and has a thick Liverpudlian accent. That is literally it.
The “Rocky” franchise has had a history of great villains and antagonists, from Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago and Mason “The Line” Dixon. Even Tommy “The Machine” Gunn and George Washington Duke from ‘Rocky V‘ are better villains in comparison to Ricky Conlan. Other than being a fighter, he has no distinguishable personality traits, nothing that makes him stand out from any other boxer in the world apart from his title rank and in comparison to previous rivals he’s a substantial step-down.
But speaking of villains, it’s interesting to see that Adonis watches old fights of his father on YouTube but I think it was a missed opportunity to not address whether or not Adonis has seen his father’s fight with Ivan Drago which ended his life. I’ve been told in response to this that footage of people dying can’t be found on YouTube, but televised deaths of celebrities like Tommy Cooper can be found online with no issue and I imagine that the fight with Drago was televised so it feels like something that should have been addressed. Also, the relationship between Adonis and his mother feels very tacked on and she disappears from the movie for very long stretches only to turn up again at the end to watch Adonis’ big fight…on television…around 6,000 miles away.
Come on, couldn’t she have flown over or something? She’s clearly rolling in money so cost isn’t an issue.
But visually, we have the best looking “Rocky” movie to date with a great variety of locations and the best fights of the franchise, and those who watched ‘Rocky Balboa‘ will know that the ending fight would be hard to top. A fight in the middle between Adonis and a local fighter is shot in a single take, with the camera bobbing and weaving between the two fighters as they duke it out. It’s a wonderful spectacle and thanks to the camera getting up close and personal to the fighters in real-time, it doesn’t feel like a gimmick or a logistical compromise. Along with a brutal and enthralling fight at the end, ‘Creed‘ has some of the best boxing fights committed to film since ‘Raging Bull‘.
As for the music, Ludwig Göransson puts together a score that fits with the “Rocky” universe but doesn’t feel like its coasting on the franchises’ motifs. It feels appropriate to the central character and his story rather than just doing urban remixes of “Gonna Fly Now”, though Adonis does have his own original version during the frequent and awesome training montages that happen throughout the film. In fact, the movie’s new identity works so well through the music that when the iconic opening bars from “Gonna Fly Now” do come into play during the final fight, it does actually feel so out of place. “Gonna Fly Now” is Rocky’s theme. Why play it during Adonis’ fight? Aside from that, all aspects of the production are great with appropriate blood and make-up effects, inventive camera angles, great lighting and all of that good stuff. The “Rocky” franchise is now wearing a new look and it’s a good look.
‘Creed‘, thanks to its engaging narrative, resonant themes, brilliant fight sequences and endearing lead characters, manages to give us one of the best instalments in the franchise. Its lack of a good villain does prevent it from ranking right up there with the original, but as a pseudo-sequel to ‘Rocky Balboa‘ it works incredibly well and does a great job at advancing the story and passing on the torch to another lead. Sylvester Stallone’s influence on the film elevates it as his performance is incredible but Ryan Coogler should not be overlooked as he’s managed to breath new life into a franchise that couldn’t have been more done a decade ago. Whether or not we’ll get four more numbered sequels remains to be seen, but with this team on board I’d be more than eager to see them.
I give ‘Creed‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 17th Jan 16