I did touch upon this film when reviewing its sequel Creed II. I expressed how much I adored this film for breathing new life into the Rocky franchise, but I never really talked in great length. So, I decided then and there that I had to return to this film at some point, and thus, it gets its own SMReviews Loves post. I’ll be honest and say I joined every other sceptic upon this film’s initial release. The rest mist that often descends when some kind of spinoff or reboot appears in our movie houses was just as present as it has been many times over, even if we got the return of Sylvester Stallone in the iconic Rocky role. When a film proves you wrong, its almost like a slap on the wrist, or in this case an uppercut to the face, but it a magical moment. If anything, your enjoyment for it in improved tenfold, and make no doubt. Creed is a magical revival to a franchise long thought to have had its time.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed follows the story of Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, the former world heavyweight champion. He wants to follow in his fathers’ footsteps and become a boxer, but no-one takes him seriously enough to train him. He travels to Philadelphia and tracks down Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and convinces him to train him. He also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson) his new neighbour and up and coming singer-songwriter who he develops a romantic attachment to. When it is discovered who Donnie is, an opportunity presents itself to fight Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the undefeated light heavyweight champion.
Possibly the biggest achievement of this film was getting Sylvester Stallone an Academy Award nomination, his first since the original Rocky which is an astonishing feat. However, it’s easy to see why he is nominated because this performance is utterly brilliant. I am so glad about the direction they took Rocky in this film. This Rocky doesn’t really have much purpose in his life, everyone he’s known has either moved on or passed away, whilst he’s still in Philadelphia. Rocky and Adonis bounce perfectly off each other because their needs are polar opposites of each other, but they need each other.
Creed sets up a perfect alternate direction to the Rocky franchise, by having at the heart of the narrative, an exploration into the father/son relationships going on. Rocky and Adonis is the most obvious to talk about but first I’d like to touch on Adonis’ relationship with Apollo Creed because even though Apollo is dead there is one. Adonis has this mentality that he has to somehow live up to his father and family names’ success, but the film does well to remind him of the reality of a fighter’s life. There’s a great conversation between Adonis and his adopted mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) where she rants about how many times, she’s had to carry Apollo up the stairs after fights because he couldn’t walk afterwards or how many times, she had to wipe Apollo’s *ahem* because he couldn’t lift his arms.
All in all, aside from how down to earth the film is, there is a strong sense of an urban grittiness feel to the film. The city of Philadelphia is in itself a character in Creed, possibly the best exploration of the city put to film. I think it elevates the journey of starting from the bottom and working up to the top Adonis has to go through. There is very satisfying scene where Adonis and Bianca go out to eat Philadelphia cheesesteaks and if this scene doesn’t prove Philly is the “city of brotherly love”, nothing will. Furthermore, there are also reoccurring appearances from this biker/quad bike gang as well, which I believe are just non-actors, along with the men at the Cheesesteak place. Accuracy is something quite essential in Creed, I believe the filmmakers were looking for an authentic environment in all scenes and they’ve absolutely nailed it down.
Admittedly however, although I like the authenticity the film presents, there are certain authentic moments where I felt a bit of Hollywood magic may have been needed. The biggest example being Tony Bellew as Ricky Conlan. I absolutely get why they would use Bellew, a real-life boxer and former champion, because the fight between him and Adonis feels like a fight you’d see on TV. I don’t think that could have been achieved if you had two actors playing boxers in that final act. Nevertheless, Tony Bellew does have some speaking parts to act out and it’s clear that acting is definitely not his strongest suit. For two acts of Creed, you’ve been subjected to incredible performances, so when someone who’s probably never acted before starts to deliver dialogue to a quality that can’t reach those heights, it’s going to stand out. Although, his boxing skills are second to none, so if you’re reading this Mr. Bellew, please don’t hurt me.
On the subject of the fights, you have two main one that grab audience’s attention, and both are filmed in contrasting styles. The aforementioned Creed v Conlan fight is filmed is a typical sense, but the other fight where Adonis takes on another boxer in his gym, the fight is filmed in one take. I think this was the time before the one-take craze in Hollywood and I remember watching this scene like you watch a good magician doing a magic trick, it was astonishing to watch. What makes this fight even better is that the camera isn’t behind the ropes, it’s in the ring, right up close and personal with the fighters. This way, the sounds and throws of the punches are felt harder by the audience.
I do often bring up this film in conversation whenever someone asks if there are indeed any good film spin offs or reboots. It was such a fresh look at the Rocky franchise and the route it has chosen to go down opens up all kinds of opportunity and stories for its characters to go through. After this film, Ryan Coogler became a director I really needed to look out for more.