What was once old is new again.
2015 was the year that classic franchises all came back; Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Mad Max, and Terminator all had new instalments last year after a long break (Some longer than others), and whilst they didn’t all hit the mark, the ones that did were outstanding. Amongst those was Creed, the seventh entry into the Rocky franchise which decided to focus on a different character. Admittedly, I was sceptical about the whole thing; it all just sounded like a cheap, cash grab spin off that would really add nothing to this legendary series. But once the trailers came out, the whole thing became a lot more promising, and the film opened to critical and commercial success. Creed packs a punch, but does it stand a chance against any of the other Rocky films?
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the underprivileged son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, who lost his life in the ring to Ivan Drago. Born just after his father’s death and raised in and out of juvenile detention, he was adopted by Apollo’s wife, and dreamed of following in his footsteps, much to her dismay. He moves to Philadelphia in search of a mentor, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the retired heavyweight champion of the world and enemy-turned-friend of Apollo. With the help of the Italian Stallion, and the support of his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Adonis’ fight to the top begins.
The Rocky series has a reputation of being nothing but cheesy montages, and it’s not hard to see why considering how prominent they are in the sequels. But because of that, it’s easy to forget just how dialogue heavy the first Rocky is (mainly because Rocky never shuts the fuck up, but still). It’s a real character driven film, and Creed mirrors that. Much like the new Star Wars, Creed is a loving homage to the original, and arguably, the best film since. Creed hits all kinds of emotional highs over the course of its 2 hour and 13 minute runtime. For one, it’s utterly nerve wracking. You’d think by now that we’d be able to see everything coming but it’s still so effective. It helps that Ryan Coogler is an astounding director who seriously knows how to craft a scene and manipulate emotions. Every fight scene in this film is exciting, but the first one is just unbelievable; it’s done entirely in one shot, and it’s all the more involving and intense for it. It’s also quite a feel good film, especially in the more intimate scenes with Adonis and Bianca, and gets to be quite heart wrenching too. Creed is far from a one note film, it does a lot of different things and does them all perfectly.
Let’s talk performances; Michael B. Jordan is outstanding. He’s already proved himself a fantastic young talent in films like Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, and Fantastic- Um yeah, but this definitely takes the cake. You can really feel Adonis’ determination through Jordan’s performance, and it makes him such an easy character to root for. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jordan’s performance is how he manages to hold his own; this is a new character, stepping into a Rocky film starring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, and at no point do you forget that he’s the main character.
Him and Stallone work together in equal measure with beautiful chemistry, that of the teacher and student, and simply complement each other for a balanced film, as opposed to taking back seat to Rocky in a film where that easily could have happened. Stallone, who was a hot topic around awards season where he was nominated for everything under the sun, though shockingly lost the Oscar to Mark Rylance, is equally amazing. I can’t speak for Rylance, but Stallone holding that trophy would have been a thing of beauty. Stallone is an actor a lot of people don’t take seriously, due to a long career for cheesy action movies, but he has always knocked it out of the park as Rocky. It’s his commitment to and understanding of the character that makes it happen; Rocky isn’t just the same boxer in each film, he evolves in every single one to a new position in his life and Stallone adapts to it so well. This time around, he’s older, he’s wiser (He’s growing hair in really weird places…) and he’s at peace after the closure he received in Rocky Balboa. Now, he sees a new opportunity in Adonis and melts into the role of mentor, a role he had in Rocky V but that took a very different route. Stallone brings a certain wisdom and awe to the screen, and I dare say that it’s the best performance he’s ever given.
Finally, Tessa Thompson shines in her role as Bianca. Bianca is very much like Adrian in that she is an essential part of Adonis’ character. She isn’t a throwaway girlfriend required to cheer her boyfriend on, she is very much her own character and, once again, the chemistry between her and Jordan is very engaging and just a delight to watch. The diversity issue at this year’s Oscars could’ve been simmered down a little by giving these two the nominations they deserved (and the same goes for Coogler).
Creed is an absolute triumph; it stands toe to toe with the first Rocky film and honestly has a chance of winning. It’s a gripping, tense, whirlwind of a film with an overwhelmingly cinematic feel to it and is easily one of the best films of 2016.