Creed - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
LIKE the underdog story it depicts, Creed is a film that defies expectations and punches well above its weight.
Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, of the little seen but excellent Fruitvale Station, this is far more than just a mere reboot of the Rocky franchise. It’s a stirring and inspirational boxing drama that lands a fairly weighty emotional upper cut to boot.
Admittedly, Coogler has opted to take the Star Wars approach to breathing new life into the Rocky story, by plucking the best bits of the Oscar-winning original and building a fresh story around it. Hence, just as the original Rocky saw Balboa rising from obscurity and poverty to land an unlikely shot at the boxing title, so Creed follows the exact same path.
But just like JJ Abrams did with The Force Awakens, Coogler tweaks and subverts things here and there, freshening things up while honouring the foundations that allowed the franchise to become so iconic in the first place.
The story focuses on Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate son of late world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Determined to make his own destiny and to right the wrongs of a misspent youth, Johnson resolves to become a boxer and subsequently travels to Philadelphia to enlist the help of Creed’s former adversary turned friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
But while initially reluctant, Balboa agrees to train Johnson and the two form a potent partnership that eventually lands the young protégé an unlikely shot against a champion… so long as he adopts his father’s name for the bout.
One of the most impressive things about Coogler’s film is the way that it effortlessly juggles the expected with the surprising. For while there are certainly generic elements, such as training montages and cheap sentimentalism akin with all of the films in the series to date, there’s so much more going on as well. And even then, the training montages are genuinely rousing and shot in such a fashion that they exhilarate.
Of the surprise elements, it’s the emotional drama that really sets this film apart. Both Jordan and Stallone are brilliant. The former is a whirlwind of raging intensity, whose greatest opponent will – as Rocky so wisely states – ultimately be himself. Watching Jordan navigate a path from self-destructive loner to vulnerable team player [and even lover] is genuinely inspiring, not least during an emotional breakdown with Balboa that cuts to the bone of his insecurity and rage.
But Stallone is every bit as good too. His ageing Rocky is a humble, even broken man, whose own battle in the film unfolds in truly poignant fashion. On at least two occasions, Stallone will have you holding back the tears, thereby delivering a potent reminder of what he has long been able to do as an actor (see Rocky or Copland) but – for such long periods – has opted against.
There’s eye-catching support, too, from Tessa Thompson as Creed’s love interest… an altogether sassier version of the ‘Adrian’ character from the original, who has her own journey to take.
Coogler deserves credit for giving these characters the room to breathe and grow, rather than reducing them to mere caricatures. But he’s also more than up to the task when it comes to the boxing scenes.
An early match, in particular, impresses by virtue of the fact it was shot in a single take, thereby capturing the sheer breathless intensity of life in the ring, as well as the bone-crunching nature of the blows. But he also leaves you gasping during the final confrontation, expertly working up the tension and even dropping in that iconic Rocky theme at exactly the right moment.
If the film does drift into mawkish sentimentality thereafter, Coogler has earned the right to indulge. And besides, he still manages to throw in a final scene between Jordan and Stallone that genuinely resonates.
Hence, Creed emerges from the initial doubts surrounding it as a heavy-hitter of the highest calibre – a heavyweight in every sense that will keep you hooked from gritty start to celebratory finish.
Running time: 2hrs 12mins
UK Release Date: January 15, 2016