Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson
Surpasses the Father
By Mason Manuel
Legacy. That’s the thing that keeps getting knocked around my head as I watch Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Trying to reboot one of the most iconic franchises of all time is no small feat. Actually doing something great with it is even more difficult. Which is why I can’t believe that Creed absolutely knocks it out of the ring. Not only does the film starring Michael B. Jordan (The Wire) meet the bar, it says “screw the bar, I’m reaching for the sky.” Creed is fantastic and can easily be labeled one of the best fighter films of all time.
Though Creed takes place in the Rocky universe (six films will do that), you don’t have to be an avid follower of the past films to appreciate the story of young Adonis (Donnie) Creed. There are plenty of nostalgic hints for anyone who has seen the original films but Coogler never relies on them. This isn’t Rocky’s story. More than that, Donnie is Rocky’s exact opposite. Whereas Rocky was the lovable oaf who fought for every breath he took, Donnie had a pretty easy upbringing in L.A. after a rough childhood in Juvie. Adonis was conceived through an affair Apollo Creed had with Donnie’s mother and had no idea of who his father was until Creed Sr.’s wife found him in jail as a child. Since the revelation, he has done all he can to abandon the name of his father and make his own way in the world. But the family tradition dies hard, as Donnie loves fighting as much as Apollo did. What’s more, Donnie has just as much potential to become one of the best around (♫ annnnnnnd nothins ever gunna keep him down ♫). Despite growing up with the wealth of his late father and even having a good legitimate job, Donnie feels the need to prove himself the best way he knows how. The weight of his name tortures him and so he decides to train under the only man who could go toe to toe with his dad; the one and only Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
The seventh entry in the Rocky-verse follows the same paint by the numbers formula as its predecessors. We learn about the fighter’s personal demons, how they overcome them with fighting, and then watch the sweet training montages up to the big fight. While this formula is nothing new, it never feels old or overstays its welcome. Surprisingly, though the film is all about the fight we rarely see a lot of fighting, in the traditional sense anyway. More than three quarters of the film stays away from the ring and instead focuses on Adonis himself. Donnie is a fascinating character due to his unique position of being shunned by both the pros and the underdogs. The professional boxers rat on him because they see a kid riding on his daddy’s laurels whereas the underdogs see a kid who got to grow up with the wealth of Creed’s estate, never really having to fight for anything in his life. Of course, these accusations are unwarranted but they make Adonis fight even harder than if he was the stereotypical rags to riches character.
Jordan is perfectly cast, reteaming up with the Fruitvale Station director to create another masterpiece. In fact, in the lengthy two and half hour run time there is not a single poor performance. Stallone brings back the role he could play in his sleep by now, but also carries some incredibly strong heart to film. Rocky is old by now; most of his friends and family have passed away, and his realizations of that situation create more than one tear jerking moment. But enough about feelings. What about the fights?? Coogler takes full advantage of his cinematographer Maryse Alberti, best known for her work on The Wrestler. Though far and few between, these fights are horrifyingly brutal. Each punch thrown has palpable power behind it. The camera almost feels like a fighter itself, going in and out, bobbing and weaving around the action. We are shown a number of perspectives during the fights, be it the fighters themselves, or a judge, a coach, or an audience member in the nosebleed stands. The fighters themselves have their bouts choreographed perfectly. Each punch feels like a calculated risk in the early rounds and later like desperate flails as the match gets ever closer to round 12. It is a great reflection of the utter savagery of the sport while still showing that there is as much mentality to it as there is physicality.
Creed is one of the best of 2015 and of what the fighting genre as a whole has to offer. Jordan shows he has the chops and physical prowess to take on boxing champions and one of the most iconic movie franchises in cinematic history. The only place the film ever falters is when it takes time to focus on Donnie’s budding relationship with his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson). It’s never bad—it just feels out of place and less impactful in a movie that is full of heavy hitting moments (pun obviously intended). There will be a lot of debate over whether or not the son of Creed is a worthy successor to the house Rocky built but you can quote me on this one. Creed is better than the original Rocky. It pays full respect to the series while still making room to make a name for itself, much like Adonis. RDR gives Creed a 9.5 out of 10.