Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion is back for the seventh film in the Rocky series, but the first neither written nor directed by Stallone. Colchester 101’s Andy Oliver reviews the Colchester Odeon’s latest January offering on the big screen.
If you have loved the Rocky movies, as bad as some of them became, then you, like myself, may find yourself wiping a grateful tear from your eye at some of the wonderfully respectful moments that appear in Creed. The sight of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) pulling his folding chair out of a tree in a cemetery; the crudely painted ‘Eagles’ graffiti daubed on a bridge; a pair of sneakers hanging from an overhead telephone cable; Cuff and Link, Rocky’s turtles, the only friends he has left now that even the incorrigible Paulie has died. Creed shares many of the same beats as the original Rocky, but it’s sly and canny about them, never letting the previous six movies hold sway over it. Creed is its own movie and, quite honestly, it is absolutely terrific.
So, what if you’ve never seen a Rocky movie before or maybe you’ve only seen a couple, do you need to do a marathon catch-up session to bring you up to speed with Creed? Absolutely not, Creed easily stands alone for the newcomer and everything you need to know is skilfully worked into its exhilarating script. Just sit down and enjoy. If you love it, there’s a six whole movies (of varying quality, it must be said) for you to dip into at a later date.
Adonis Johnson has never known his father and his mother has died whilst in his formative years, the movie begins with a young Adonis in juvenile detention, segregated from the general prison population for fighting. When Mary Anne Creed arrives at the detention centre, young Adonis discovers that he is the illegitimate child of former boxing world champion, Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born.
Having been adopted by Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), ‘Donnie’ (Michael B. Jordan) grows up in privileged comfort, but the fighter inside him still rules the quieter side of him that has carved out a successful career working in finance, he fights in semi-professional bouts in Mexico by night and the office by day. He has ambitions to be a fighter, like his father, but when he finds that his Los Angeles gym have no interest in training him he moves to Philadelphia to find Apollo’s former-adversary and greatest friend, Rocky Balboa, and convince him to become his trainer.
Although initially reluctant, Rocky decides to help his friend’s son achieve his dream and, when an opportunity to fight for a world title reveals itself, finds that the young man’s life is mirroring his own and rediscovers the fighter within himself.
One of the great appeals of Rocky (the original movie) was not in the fighting but that it’s a really sweet love story about lonely people taking a chance, it’s about taking a leap of faith and trusting that strong arms are there to catch them. Creed also has a great love story that’s not tacked on but is integral to the plot. ‘Donnie’ meets and falls in love with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring musician with degenerative hearing loss. The fact that both are pursuing careers that they both love and both understand will ultimately destroy them is what gives this love a remarkable power and an underlying tragedy. Neither ever questions the other’s love of their respective paths and there are no interminably angsty moments where either pleads the insanity of the other’s choice, it’s just an incredibly sweet and supportive love, beautifully imagined and played.
Jordan is magnetically great as the driven and internally confused ‘Donnie’ Johnson/Creed; he has an explosive temper and an expansive smile and quietly brings the character through a host of emotions; he has a confident swagger, but never comes across as cocky; he has his father’s sense of showmanship and Rocky’s humility. It’s difficult not to love his character.
Tessa Thompson, as ‘Donnie’s’ girlfriend, is sharp and funny and is full of righteous, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-s**t attitude. She’s as driven as her boyfriend and this is a major part of his attraction to her. She’s no shut-in like Adrian, the love of Rocky’s life, Bianca is her own person, she doesn’t need ‘Donnie’ but her life and her music is enhanced and made greater with him in it.
Rounding out the trio is Sylvester Stallone, reprising the role that first brought him fame nearly forty years ago, and you have to ask, “Where has this Stallone been?” He is superb as the bumbling, shy, lost former world-champion. He has lost everyone he loved and is ready to just fade away until this young man enters his life, in health and in sickness Stallone manages to bring tears to your eyes. It’s a great performance, subtle, funny, heartbreaking and makes you wish you could have seen more of this Stallone rather than the violent, muscle-bound hero roles that seem to have padded out his career to date.
Fans of the Marvel super-hero Universe will, no doubt, be overjoyed that director, Ryan Coogler, has signed on to make that studio’s Black Panther movie after watching Creed. Coogler keeps the camera moving and, during the fight scenes, gets up close and personal with the boxers, weaving around and between them so that the viewer truly understands the brutality of each hit and the physical intimacy of the combatants. There’s even a single shot during one of the fights that lasts so long that when you finally notice it it leaves you reeling at its pure audacity. These aren’t camera set-ups for the sheer flashy, “Look-how-smart-I-am” bravura of them, Coogler uses his shots to serve the story not to make the viewer appreciate his style, it’s refreshingly honest and effective.
While that camera floats like a butterfly, it is in the emotional honesty that Creed stings like a bee. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Rocky movies, there is almost too much to enjoy in Creed and you may find yourself involuntarily shedding a tear and punching the air by turns.