Boxing films, stories of overcoming the odds and winning in and outside of the ring. You would think that this formula would dry up after all these years, but Creed just proved us wrong yet again with the highly anticipated spin-off of the beloved Rocky franchise birthed from the heart of Sylvester Stallone nearly forty years ago. Writer and director Ryan Coogler proves to audiences once again that he is a young force in Hollywood that handles his craft with love and care and should be on everyone’s radar by the end of this year. His natural storytelling abilities were encapsulated through his feature film debut with Fruitvale Station and have carried on for Creed with exciting results. Coogler brings back his muse – Michael B. Jordan – in a modern retelling and continuation that is both reminiscent of the classic film, but also discovers its own identity in the process much like its lead. It takes on the challenge as a new age underdog story without falling to the deadly cliches most films like this could have suffered and instead proves its critics wrong like the character of Rocky himself.
Learning that this was a letter to the director’s father and the strong father-son relationship they share, it was a positive sign for the films quality and emotional depth that would soon drive the film to its eventual pulse-pounding gravitas. Like the original Rocky film back in 1976, the story is not just about boxing nor is it full of flashy boxing matches that blanket the heart of its characters, though the fight scenes are something to behold. This is a human story about a young man figuring out how to solve his identity crisis as well as his daddy issues while trying to create a legacy started by the father he never knew. In tale, Adonis seeks out the man that his father once called a rival and later his best friend – Rocky Balboa – and returns the audience to the all too familiar streets of Philadelphia Pennsylvania with one of the coolest mixtures of hip hop songs and a familiar updated score.
Adonis soon realizes that Rocky is the man that can bring him to his goals of becoming a great boxer like his father, but reluctantly, Rocky takes on the short tempered, though talented, young boxer as they go through the classic montages that make sports films so exciting. Michael B. Jordan’s transformations, both physically and mentally, are dramatically effective in bringing the audience into his character, showcasing a fighter with a heart and mind that knows when it’s time to fight and when not to. Some of the best scenes proving this conscious effort to better himself are when he shares the screen with Tessa Thompson – star of Dear White People – an impressive young talent in her own right.
Whether it be the superpowers of Coogler’s direction or just the rare blooming of Sly’s dramatic acting chops, Stallone brings his A-game in what might be his best performance as a pure actor since 1976. Never have I been so emotionally clamped onto a Sylvester Stallone performance like I was during my viewing of Creed. Seeing Stallone go from the young boxer to the wise old trainer was something I don’t think audiences were expecting gravitate towards like we did. Sly as an aged Balboa is warm, subtle and lonely all at once as he takes on the fatherly role to Jordan’s Adonis, and in the process they make a hard hitting pair (pun intended). Once we see the first few scenes between Stallone and Jordan, we already know their relationship is one for the ages. It’s organically grown and easily believable all throughout as it mixes light comedy with inspiration.
But how can you talk about a boxing film without mentioning the boxing scenes? That’s like Food Network not mentioning food for the whole day. Coogler was able to do something that a lot of directors have trouble doing when making films like this and that is getting hard hitting fight scenes that look believable. The way Coogler was able to capture the in-ring bouts are nothing shy of impressive. Every hit and swing looked visceral and hard hitting as well as realistic. The cuts and blood splatter take us into the fights without us even knowing it and the hype before each fight is enough to make you want to take yourself up and strap on the gloves yourselves.
I’d be shocked if Stallone didn’t get nominated for a Best-Supporting Oscar this year and Michael B. Jordan and Coogler are just as deserving if there is enough space come Oscar season. Stallone’s performance as the aged fighter may have been his defining moments as an actor and compare to his debut role as the same character. His charm reminded us why we love Rocky so much, but it was showing us how to properly pass on the torch and why the torch needs to be passed in the first place. Loss and loneliness are realities of life the older we become, but can be combated by having people that care about you in your corner and Michael B. Jordan is the perfect actor to be given the torch.
Creed does nearly everything right. The story is cohesive to the past films while still being its own personal story but it also doesn’t forget where it comes from. There is respect and needed changes brought in to produce a quality story on screen and has plenty to move on with in this new franchise seems to only be going in a positive direction. It is a diverse cast without forcing the issue and it brings up relevant topics in more ways than one. The direction is near flawless in execution and will bring excitement and adrenaline pumping through your veins with well realized hip hop soundtrack as well as a great Rocky inspired score. It’s definitely a Top 5 film of 2015 so far and will likely be staying there for the rest of the year.