As a boxing movie Creed packs a heavyweight punch.
Sylvester Stallone (as the film’s producer) has covered a lot of miles with his Rocky legend, most recently with his 2006 Rocky Balboa. As such I had thought there was little milk left in the cash cow, but “Creed” proves me wrong. This time, with Stallone’s advancing years, he wisely doesn’t stretch credibility by having Rocky Balboa as the centre of the pugilism, but hands the baton to young contender Adonis (“Donnie”) Creed (Michael B Jordan). Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s protagonist and later close friend in the first four Rocky films.
Donnie is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a big chip on his shoulder and a reputation for finding trouble with his fists. Brought back from the brink by Apollo’s wife (a touching performance by Phylicia Rashad) Donnie can’t escape his family legacy and seeks Balboa’s help to make it in the ring, using his own adopted name. Balboa’s help leads to a number of ‘traditionally’ brutal Rocky-style encounters in the ring.
I must admit I don’t normally ‘go’ for boxing films like this, but this is extremely well done. All of the boxing training is gritty and believable and the actual bouts, particularly the classic finale, is suitably thrilling and a technical masterpiece of camerawork (hats off to cinematographer Maryse Alberti, who also filmed “The Wrestler” so is no stranger to the ring).
A real surprise is just how good Stallone is in the role. There are scenes where Stallone really has to act – particularly an emotional locker-room scene when Rocky faces up to his own personal crisis – and any jokes about Sylvester “Expendables” Stallone’s acting abilities are forgotten. Michael B Jordan is also a great find and a name to watch. He has to cover a wide range during the film and succeeds admirably.
Tessa Thompson, impressive in last year’s “Selma”, makes a similarly positive impression here playing the love interest in the form of songstress Bianca, with a difficult future ahead of her.
“Creed” is a love letter to the old Rocky films, and – with this quality, and likely success – the start of a whole new generation of films seems probable. The respect it shows to the originals is characterised by a moving tribute to the classic ‘Philadelphia steps’ scene that brings a genuine lump to the throat. That being said, the film is a lot more ‘street’ for a new generation, with a soundtrack (by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson) that mixes rap and hip-hop with more classic orchestral elements. Without outright plagiarism of Bill Conti’s classic score, Göransson subtly weaves in some of Conti’s themes, notably Adrian’s theme, as well as coming up with his own “Fly Now”-equivalent musical high-point.
Impressive direction is by Ryan Cooglar in only his second feature film (after Fruitvale Station, also with Michael B Jordan). Cooglar also wrote the story and co-wrote the script. Without any spoilers, the story is delightfully ‘un-Hollywood” by being unpredictable in where it goes. However, an area for criticism is that it took a few ‘easy’ short-cuts in places: a particular ‘change of heart’ in the film is way to glib and quick.
Finally, i would love to watch this film in a cinema in Liverpool, when the “hallowed turf” for a bout is revealed as being Everton’s ground, Goodison Park….! Generations of Liverpool FC fans will be turning in their graves and I predict that cinemas in the city could become scenes of the worst hand to hand combat since the finale of Kingsman!
Fad Rating: FFFF.