D: Ryan Coogler. DP: Maryse Alberti. W: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington. Starring: Sylvester Stallone/Michael B. Jordan/Tessa Thompson/Phylicia Rashad/Tony Bellow.
Although over in America Creed has been out since Thanksgiving, here in the UK we have just gotten the film and in the nick of time for award season. The seventh film to center on Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Philadelphia boxer, Rocky Balboa, Creed breathes new life into series so ostensibly linked to its star. Having written and directed the thought-to-be final film in 2006, Rocky Balboa, sixty-nine year old Stallone was convinced to step into the ring once again. And no one should be disappointed.
Director Ryan Coogler and young star Michael B. Jordan first teamed up for the 2013 Sundance success Fruitvale Station. The film centers on the fatal story of Oscar Grant who was shot by police in the San Francisco metro station on New Years Eve 2008. By that point Jordan had already been in Josh Tank’s Chronicle and would go on to join Fantastic Four when Tank took on the franchise. His pairing with Coogler is evidently a creatively fruitful one as it’s clear throughout Creed that everyone was making the same Rocky movie. Coogler, who has yet to hit thirty, has already made a name for himself and will be taking the reigns of the new Black Panther film for Marvel.
Creed follows a similar trajectory of the 1976 original that Stallone wrote, cultivating its underdog to take on a fight where he is the sure fire loser. The film is therefore able to center its emotional worth on Stallone as the reluctant coach and Jordan as his famous opponent’s, Apollo Creed, bastard son. Living in the shadow of the name alone Jordan’s Adonis aka Donny searches for identity within a sport that killed his father. Jordan is a rare combination of focus, charm, and a dash of ego as Donny, but never lays it on thick. In the rare emotionally vulnerable scenes between the mentor and his charge their connection is truly touching and a brilliant exploration of masculine emotion and care. Stallone doesn’t preach too much and the gentleness he has always brought to Rocky is still there.
Creed recognizes its canon and Rocky’s world, but brings the focus of the boxing into the personal. Unlike lesser boxing turns like last year’s Southpaw, this film also shoots its boxing scenes not like their matches to be aired on television, but rather through the dynamic of trainer and boxer. French cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, who also shot 2008’s The Wrestler brings an intelligent touch to this athletic hyper masculine space. A running shot of Jordan down the street is quite memorable. Jordan’s romance with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is allowed to breathe and build without the routine racial struggle apparent. Thompson has long been working since her days on UPN’s Veronica Mars and it’s great to see her shine and create a character that is not the usual generic sports girlfriend.
Creed is a hit on all accounts right down to its music. It is hard not to feel your heart lift and your hand itch to punch the air when Rocky’s music comes on. Hopefully you feel as I did that this movie was made with tremendous love for its star Stallone and not for the money. Funny what we can find when we listen to our hearts and not our pockets.