Considering how it is one of the most successful series in the popular imagination, I’ve never been that into the Rocky series. I’ve not seen 1, 2 or 5, 3 and 4 were entertaining but nothing more, the only really great one I’ve seen is Balboa. However, this new film in the Rocky series peaked my interest as soon as it was announced, not because of the series but because of the creative team. Ever since I saw Fruitvale Station I made a commitment to watching every film made by Ryan Coogler, and this film is his first film since then. My expectations were high based on how incredible Fruitvale Station was and I’m pleased to say those expectations were met. It’s only a few weeks into 2016 and I don’t think there will be many films that will top Creed.
The plot concerns Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, with aspirations of following his father’s footsteps and becoming a boxer, quitting his job to become a boxer full time. After failing to get trained in LA, he moves to Philadelphia to recruit Rocky Balboa as his trainer. After Adonis succeeds in getting Rocky to train him, he gets the chance to fight the champion Ricky Conlan before he goes to prison for gun possession and after Conlan broke the jaw of the fighter he was originally going up against, but only on the condition that Adonis adopt the Creed name. The main thematic weight of the film comes from the feeling of legacy that Adonis has. Throughout the film, Adonis does not want to adopt the Creed name wanting to form his own image. He tells no-one except Rocky that he is the son of Apollo Creed and he is terrified of taking on the Creed name and losing. This legacy is reflective of the entire film, having to follow in the footsteps of the original Rocky films whilst creating its own identity. Everything about this film screams legacy and this is what makes the film so compelling. The film also does a great job showing the wonder that can be brought to people through work they know will destroy them. This is seen not only with the physical damage that Adonis is doing to himself in the ring but also with Bianca. Bianca is a musician who is suffering from degenerative hearing loss and will one day go completely deaf. She’s preparing for the day that happens but is using the remaining time she can hear to be a musician. The fact that Adonis and Bianca support each shows the knowledge they have on how vital what the other does is.
The performances meanwhile are excellent throughout. Michael B Jordan is excellent as Adonis, showing the feelings of fear that he has over the legacy he has, along with him being prone to bursts of anger if he’s compared to Apollo. He also shows a great deal of determination and equates himself brilliantly in the fight scenes, especially when he’s going up against professional boxers. There’s also this charm and humour Jordan brings to the part which makes him an incredibly likeable character and is what makes the bulk of the film work. For a long time I had written off Sylvester Stallone as a bad actor, especially with the terrible performances he’s given over the past few years, but here he shows just how good an actor he can be. Firstly, the decision for Rocky to take on the Mickey role was the most logical step for the character and Stallone does a great job as the mentor, relishing the chance to make Adonis perform the same training Mickey made him do, which gives him some great comedic moments. It’s in the more serious moments that Stallone shines though. There’s this sense of loneliness to the character, Adrian and Paulie are both dead and his son has moved to Vancouver with his girlfriend, until Adonis arrived there was virtually no-one Rocky could connect to and when Adonis arrives, he’s given some new life. Then Rocky is diagnosed with cancer and this brings whole new depth to the character, I won’t spoil what happens here but the scenes related to it are some of the best pieces of acting Stallone has done, complemented brilliantly by Michael B Jordan. Tessa Thompson as Bianca is also great. The spirit of the character, doing what she loves, knowing it will soon go away is brilliant to watch, there’s a great level of humour that Thompson brings to the part and the chemistry between her and Jordan, the support they both offer each other is excellent. Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed is excellent as well, showing clear love for Adonis despite the circumstances of his birth, along with concern over his choice to become a boxer considering what happened to Apollo. Tony Bellew as Ricky Conlan is this great, intimidating, cocky presence, alongside Graham McTavish as his manager who brilliantly shows his own arrogance mixed with concern for Conlan’s family, arranging the fight with Adonis for the PR so that his family will be financially stable whilst Conlan is in prison.
On a technical level, the film is excellent. Ryan Coogler’s direction and Maryse Alberti’s cinematography are excellent. The boxing scenes are staged brilliantly, there’s this intensity to these scenes throughout the film that put me on edge throughout. A particular highlight is the first major fight that Adonis has, which is done in one take, doing an incredible job of putting you inside the ring with Adonis, making sure that you feel every punch that is thrown. The lighting in the film is also great, doing a great job at setting the mood, particularly in relation to Ricky Conlan and his entrance at Goodeson Park, along with the use of silhouettes, a lot of the thematic weight in the film being seen when Adonis is shadow boxing to a clip of a fight between Rocky and Apollo projected onto the wall. Attention also has to be given to the music, which does a great job at retaining the spirit of the past Rocky films whilst giving them a contemporary feel, the mixing of the new music with the classic Rocky music doing this brilliantly. The music also provides some of the more tender moments in the film in terms of Adonis’ relationship with Bianca, if the music Bianca sings wasn’t good then some of the weight of her character would have been lost.
Overall, Creed is an excellent film. Even if you are not familiar with the Rocky films, there is a lot to love about Creed. The performances, particularly Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, are excellent and the film is wrapped together by incredible direction by Ryan Coogler, direction that puts you inside the ring and creates an exhilarating experience. I cannot recommend Creed higher and I am really disappointed it hasn’t received more love in this current awards season.
My Rating: 5/5