********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: Ryan Coogler
Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson
Great actors have created some of the best movie franchises in Hollywood. And sometimes, franchises have created the actors. When the latter happens, the connection between the franchise and the actor is so strong that it is difficult to separate one from the other. In the long history of Hollywood, few movie franchises would be as deeply connected to its lead actor as the Rocky series. The legendary tale of how this whole saga came to be is an inspiration in itself; the manner in which an unknown figure called Sylvester Stallone wrote a script about an unknown boxer getting a shot at the title, and then fought tooth and nail with the studio to be cast in the lead role. Those were the beginnings of the Rocky series in 1976 which drove Stallone to stardom. Time and again, Stallone has revisited this character, moving Rocky’s life story an inch forward, as his own has gone through its ups and downs. Almost four decades later, Stallone is a much older but wiser man, and the same is true for Rocky. With Creed, we move to another new chapter where Rocky Balboa takes a backseat as another boxer becomes the new face for the franchise. But even from the shadows, the overpowering presence of Rocky (and Stallone) ensures that the new movie has its heart in the right place, and that Creed becomes a story bigger than that of a boxer, in the way that Rocky was – that it becomes the tale of human endurance and spirit which will inspire people no matter when or where they watch it!
Creed brings us the story of Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis or “Donnie” (Michael B. Jordan). An illegitimate child of Apollo, Donnie grew up in foster care and juvenile centres until Apollo’s wife tracked him down and took him in. Donnie never met his father, and wants to have little to do with his legacy, but his interest in boxing grows stronger until he decides to take it up full-time. Off he goes to Philadelphia to train at the gym where a certain Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) used to train. Donnie catches up with Rocky and asks him to become his trainer. An aged Rocky, who is still running his restaurant, has little interest to get back into the business of boxing. Donnie is however a persistent fellow, and his persistence will soon bring the two much closer than they could have imagined. On this journey, as Rocky has to fight his own demons, Donnie will come to learn the true weight the name ‘Creed’ carries. Is he up for the challenge?
When in 2006, Rocky Balboa reentered the ring for one final fight, the series seemed to have found its grand finale. In order to create another movie, it was clear that Rocky could not keep coming back to fight, and so we have been now introduced to Apollo Creed’s son. The writers of Creed had two tasks at hand – keep Adonis Creed’s life at the centre of the plot & do not minimize the aura of Rocky Balboa even if he has to step back a bit. And what a brilliant job has been done by the screenplay duo of Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington! Creed has so much depth in each of its characters, that it’s incredible the runtime isn’t far longer. Each one of the key characters, including Donnie’s final boxing rival, has something tough going on in their lives which creates a stronger association with them. This has been the hallmark of some of the best Rocky movies where all the key characters, not only Rocky Balboa, are heavily invested in the developments of the movie. At the heart of it though, Creed is about Adonis Creed and his desire to create his own legacy, to step out of his dad’s shadows. That part of the story keeps coming up in the movie, in different ways, giving it a kind of complexity that one would not have originally thought.
This is Creed’s story, have no doubt about it, in which Rocky Balboa finds a place. So Sylvester Stallone, who has directed four of the last six movies in the franchise, would not have been a good choice for Creed. It needed to be taken up with a fresh look, and so Ryan Coogler was brought to do the job. Coogler came to many people’s attention with his debut movie Fruitvale Station and now with Creed, he has added another fantastic point on his resume. Coogler has done justice to the entire franchise with the astute handling of Rocky’s legacy. Rocky’s status as a two-time champion still carries value, though at the same time, Coogler has not oversold Rocky to the audience, for there was no need to. There is a lot of drama in the movie, moving in unpredictable directions, which keeps you hooked to the narrative. And in between the drama, Coogler brings the excitement of a boxing match to quicken the pulse. The boxing fights are brilliantly shot, as the cameras smoothly move around the ring, making the fight feel more real-time. The non-boxing aspect is also handled with care and thought, making Creed more than a boxing movie. There are numerous throwbacks to the Rocky series as well, more than enough to make you nostalgic. Rocky’s fight with Apollo is shown briefly on a big screen; Rocky visits Adrian’s grave just like he did in the previous movie; names of Paulie and Mickey keep coming up; the last fight of Apollo is still fresh in Rocky’s mind; even the son of Apollo’s trainer has a moment in the movie. As a fan of the series, it is such a delight to be taken back to Rocky’s world once again! Bill Conti’s legendary “Gonna Fly Now” theme finds a place, though not where you would expect it. Same goes for the famous “Rocky steps”. Creed has its own new set of music superbly composed by Ludwig Göransson which is worth purchasing.
Sylvester Stallone comes back to being Rocky Balboa as if he never stopped being him. All these years, Stallone made a name for himself as an action star, but whenever he tried to be something other than a gun-firing hero, he never truly succeeded. Apart from the Rocky series. With this character, the one he had conceived, Stallone seems to have a connection that is unbreakable. It makes him and Rocky the same being, as if they understand each other as no one else can. In Creed, Stallone brings a refined old age to Rocky Balboa, as well as wisdom and maturity that his younger version would not have had. He comes across as the old cute uncle who has lived a good life, but when it comes to matters of the boxing ring, Stallone brings out the fierce side of Rocky Balboa, the one who knows what extent of commitment it takes to become the champion in this sport. Stallone is once more incredibly good in this role, and it is such a pleasure to get another chance to see him play Balboa again.
Michael B. Jordan had a lot of work cut out for him if he wanted to be the new face of the Rocky series. He built the muscles, he got the right attitude, but the big thing is that he got a beautiful chemistry going with Sylvester Stallone. He lovingly calls Rocky ‘Unc’ in the movie, and both of them create a rapport which gives the movie a wonderful heart. Jordan was the star of the Fruitvale Station directed by Coogler, and had shown promises of a bundle of talent underneath which is starting to become more prominent now. He brings out the internal turmoil of Adonis Creed with his words and his punches. For a Rocky fan, this is still not the same as watching Rocky Balboa fight, but it is the best option that we’ll get now.
Tessa Thompson as Bianca, the love interest of Creed, has her own space in the film which is good to watch, considering how one-sided the female parts could easily be in a boxing movie. Thompson has a charming presence that makes her a lovely introduction in the life of the duo of Balboa and young Creed. There is still a lot more character development that could go into Biance which hopefully would be done if a sequel were to follow. The boxing fight with Tony Bellew towards the end gets really heavy, as Bellew himself is a British professional boxer and looks the part of someone who shouldn’t be messed around with. Phylicia Rashād as Apollo Creed’s wife is another wonderful casting, elegant and mature but with her own fierce attitude to match that of her son’s.
Just as Creed is about the young Adonis wanting to step out of the shadows of his father, it is also about the movie stepping out of the shadows of Rocky series. While still a part of the franchise, it has the credentials to launch something of its own, a series around Adonis Creed that borrows lesser and lesser from the Rocky franchise as time goes by. Nothing can ever match the thrills that Stallone gave us fighting as Rocky in the rings, but if Michael B. Jordan ever wants to come close, then he has to stroke a passion and hunger to be Adonis Creed in the way that Stallone did to be Rocky Balboa. With Creed as the beginning, the journey has started on the perfect track!