Creed Review

Posted: December 4, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

creedpostersmallWritten by Daniel “PG” Simpson

I don’t really blame anyone who had initially dismissed Creed. Sylvester Stallone’s recent films have generally been to nostalgia pandering from his heyday and a spin-off of the Rocky franchise seemed no different. But the fact is this was not an idea from Stallone, or a money-hungry studio for that matter. The inspiration actually came from Ryan Coogler, a young filmmaker who showed some premise with the flawed, but well-made, Fruitvale Station. Coogler is a talent to watch and the notion of a genuine continuation of the Rocky legacy intrigued me.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the bastard child of legendary boxer Apollo Creed. Apollo died before Adonis was born, and thus Adonis grew up without a further. Still, Apollo’s wife, Mary (Phylicia Rashad) took Adonis in after his biological mother died and provided him the means for a good life. However, Adonis finds himself restless and is unsure of his place in the world. He does find himself drawn to boxing though, and decides to quit his comfortable office job to pursue boxing professionally. Most see the young Creed as an amateur in over his head and won’t train him. As a result, Creed moves out to Philly to seek the guidance of his father’s rival and eventual best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

The Rocky films can generally be placed in two categories; sincere human stories and ridiculous action movies. Creed falls decidedly into the former camp. It’s clear that Ryan Coogler looked back to the original film and wished to recreate the same genuine emotion found there. While there are fights and training montages here, the focus of the film is clearly on the story and characters. Adonis Creed’s struggle to find his place and accept his heritage, though predictable, is very compelling and the emotions feel real. The story could have in fact made for a perfectly gripping standalone film, but I think it works better working within the Rocky universe. Adonis’ struggle resonates greater because we knew Apollo. More importantly, it allows the film to explore what has become of Rocky since we’ve last seen him. The character is in an even lonelier place than before. His wife Adrian is long dead, his son is moved off with his own life, and his brother-in-law Paulie has also passed. Rocky is still keeping on, with the same enduring charm that’s defined his character, but it’s also clear he’s not in the best part of his life. Watching the bond grow between he and Adonis is the film’s greatest highlight and the emotion that comes from this (and the film’s other aspects) is crucial. The fact is Creed sticks to the series’ formula perhaps more than it should. You can kind of predict everything that will happen, all the scenes that you expect to be there are, and the film is pretty reliant on sports movie clichés. I do wish this been improved, but at the same time, the emotions of the story are powerful and genuine enough that film works in spite of these flaws.

Key to the emotional effect of the film are the performances. Sylvester Stallone has been receiving a lot of positive praise, and even Oscar buzz, for his performance here and it’s well-earned. He steps naturally back into his most iconic role, but more importantly, Stallone digs deep and conveys a lot of emotional power. It’s easily to underestimate Stallone’s talents, and while I won’t pretend he’s the best actor in the world, he was born to play Rocky Balboa. This is a character he’s always cared about deeply and he really shows that here. Michael B. Jordan also gives a really strong turn as Adonis Creed and reaffirms my faith that he’s one of the up and comers to watch. The pair actually have great chemistry too, both in the dramatic scenes and the lighter ones. I was also really impressed by Phylicia Rashad, who plays Adonis’ adopted mother. She doesn’t have the large role, but she makes an impact in her few scenes. Even the typically boring token girlfriend character is made interesting thanks to a genuine performance from Tessa Thompson.

Creed is Coogler’s first studio effort and he makes the transition from the independent world nicely. I can’t see much of an auteurist stamp between this and Fruitvale Station (apart from Jordan playing the lead in both) but the man clearly knows his stuff. There are some really great camera movements here and Coogler also knows when to reign in visual flair in order to just let a scene play. There are also some really effective set-piece moments. Part of the reason the repeat of Rocky clichés like the montage don’t feel problematic is how well their shot and edited. The film also features two pretty exceptional boxing matches. One two round fight is shot entirely in one take, with the camera continually circling the combatants. It’s an exciting scene which emphasizes how, once in the ring, you’re on your own. The climactic match is much more heavily edited and it too is quite good. It’s a really rousing scene which is engaging, not just viscerally, but on a character level too. The film’s music is also quite good. Coogler has assembled a strong soundtrack and the score is strong too. Composer Ludwig Göransson does a good job mixing traditional series’ themes with original material to create its own sound.

Creed is not a film that’s going to change the world. This doesn’t bring much innovation to the series formula, but it executes on the formula very well. The performances are strong, the characters sincere, and the directing impressive. The film’s greatest achievement though is how real it’s emotion and sentimentality is felt. That isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. A lot of critics and academics like to undermine films which operate on an emotional level like this. It’s the reason why Steven Spielberg is often undervalued in certain circles. However there are certain films which really excel at telling a gripping emotional story. In 1976, Rocky achieved just that, and while Creed isn’t quite on the level of that classic, it does tap into that same richness.

A-

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    I’m shocked this did so well with you. I must see it now. The reviews really looked sappy and bad.

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