“What was his name?”
The Rocky franchise, just like its eponymous hero, never seems to give up, no matter how hard it’s battered. The underrated ‘Rocky Balboa’ seemed to signal the end of the franchise, but this is Hollywood; a big money franchise will always be milked. Thus, we have ‘Creed,’ the latest entry in the franchise. You’d be forgiven for refusing to see it due to the abundance of sequels/spin offs/remakes/reboots that flood our cinemas. However, by doing that you’d make a grave mistake and missing a great movie! It’s on a par with the quality of the Oscar-winning original ‘Rocky,’ and that’s some compliment indeed!
Fortunately, we don’t see Rocky Balboa strap on his gloves for another final boxing match. This time, the gloves are on the hands of Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s greatest rival, the late Apollo Creed. Creed’s wife gives young Adonis a home, and presumably sets him up with a great office job. However, Adonis sneaks to Mexico for unofficial boxing matches, and one day decides to give up his office jobs and follow in the footsteps of his father…and there’s only one man that is worthy of training him…the man who indirectly caused his father’s death, Rocky Balboa! Cue training montages, snippets of drama, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the Light Heavyeight Champion of the World…
“I’m gonna leave you two alone for a while”
So far, so ‘Rocky.’ And the first hour of the film, whilst not plodding at all, is all about character building. Of course, we know Rocky, but here he is a fallen warrior; simply existing, and at first refusing to train Johnson. “You got brains,” he tells Adonis, so why not use them? We don’t need to be told why Adonis wants to fight; we can see it in Michael B’ Jordan’s impressive performance. He talks the talk and walks the walk, exuding a formidable but fragile air, a child damaged by the lack of the father who left him only with the passion for boxing. He’s one half of the reason why the talky first half of the film works; he’s a different beast to the magnetic Rocky Balboa in ‘Rocky,’ but he’s just as mesmerising. Our first glimpse of him as an adult is a long, unbroken take, strapping on gloves ready for a fight. He punches the wall in preparation; actions speaking louder than words.
The other half is Sylvester Stallone himself, back in his greatest role. He’s as humble as ever as the gentle giant, but age has caught up with him. “Time takes everyone out,” he tells Adonis in his eatery, named ‘Adrian’s Restaurant’ after his deceased wife. His role as Balboa in ‘Rocky’ was superb, but ‘Creed’ showcases perhaps Stallone’s best ever performance, proving that he has a tremendous acting ability. From humour, to sullenness, to sadness, to determination, Stallone hits all the right notes at all the right times. Indeed, while Adonis is the earth of the story, Rocky is the moon orbiting, keeping everything ticking along without eclipsing the story or Adonis.
“Now’s the time for you to rise to the occasion”
However, it’s the second half that elevates ‘Creed’ into greatness. It begins with the second boxing match, and Creed’s first official boxing match. And what a show it is, appearing as one unbroken take. As a technical feat, it’s majestic, but also serves as a pulse-pounding fight. From that fight on, ‘Creed’ never wavers or falters in plot or character. The first half was preparing us for the intensity and emotion of the second half. I’m not afraid to say it: I cried on more than one occasion. That’s what a real man does, when confronted with the emotional beats of a film like ‘Creed!’ My eyes and my mind never wandered from the screen during the second half.
There should be equal credit to both the director, Ryan Coogler, and the cinematographer, Maryse Alberti. I mentioned before about our first glimpse of adult Adonis, and I thought it was similar to a scene in ‘The Wrestler’ where Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is walking to the ring. We follow Creed from behind the shoulder, just like we did with ‘The Ram.’ There’s little gloss to proceedings; everything is gritty and grimy. Of course, there is an abundance of flashy takes, cuts and scenes, but the overwhelming feeling is of ‘realism.’ The environment feels as worn as Rocky Balboa, but there are snippets of the hope that Adonis contains.
“Build your own legacy”
I found myself contrasting ‘Creed’ with ‘The Force Awakens.’ They are both the seventh entry in franchises that are almost as old as each other (‘Rocky’ came out in 1976, ‘Star Wars’ came out in 1977). The latest entries both bring in new characters whilst using older characters to tie things together and give legitimacy to proceedings. And, let’s be honest, both films are basically remakes of the original films of their respective franchises. ‘Creed’ follows the path of ‘Rocky’ just as much as ‘The Force Awakens’ follows the path of ‘Star Wars.’ However, I’d peg ‘Creed’ as a greater success in reviving a franchise than ‘The Force Awakens.’ Of course, the box office takings negate my view, but bear with me!
‘The Force Awakens’, whilst often using nostalgia to great effect, sometimes forced it into our faces. The second half of the film floundered, unsteadily building to a semi-effective climax. ‘Creed,’ on the other hand, uses nostalgia in small doses, and the sentimental effect thus produced is powerful. The scene where Rocky gets Creed to chase chickens is not only funny, but a nice throwback to ‘Rocky II,’ for example. And, like I mentioned before, the second half of the film flies, rather than flounders. It builds to a thrilling final boxing match that delivers in action and in emotion.
“When you get to the top, you think you can fly”
Maybe I allowed my emotions to cloud my judgement, but I simply loved ‘Creed.’ Both Adonis and Rocky had me in tears on several occasions. It’s a testament not only to their characters, but to the story itself (and my fiancée was also in tears, in my defence!). There’s barely a flaw in sight, right from our sight of a young Adonis fighting in juvenile prison. Of course, it’s biggest flaw is that it follows the plot of ‘Rocky’ almost too reverentially, but it delivers beats and plots that improve on some elements of the ‘Rocky’ story. For example, the love side story feels more organic that Rocky’s parallel love story with Adrian in ‘Rocky’ (and I haven’t even commented on the great performance of Tessa Thompson as ‘Bianca’!). All I can recommend is that you watch this film as soon as possible, even if you haven’t watched any of the movies! It’s a bloody treat for old fans and new fans alike!
VERDICT: 9/10. An emotionally draining and intense reboot/spin off in the ‘Rocky’ franchise that hits all the right nostalgic beats while creating plenty of its own. Franchise: succesfully rebooted!