Ryan Coogler writes and directs Creed, an indirect sequel to the Rocky franchise that follows the journey of one of Apollo Creed’s children. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, a young man who started life bouncing around foster care and juvenile centres after his mother passes away. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) tracks Adonis down, takes him in and tells him who he is. Adonis is the son of Apollo Creed, the child of an affair and the son of a man who died before he was born. Determined to forge his own path Adonis starts on a journey to the ring to claim greatness, and in his corner is the Italian Stallion himself, Rocky Balboa.
Creed is a very good film, it refrains from being a generic sports film for the greater part of it’s running time and covers a myriad of subjects, even if some of them are fleeting. The film opens with Adonis fighting whilst inside a juvenile centre, a young boy left with no family and no prospect for the future, that is until Mary Anne Creed comes his way. Mary Anne takes Adonis in, mothers him, and helps get him on track. However once Adonis is older it is clear where his heart and passion lie. Knowing the success of his father has given him the drive to become something greater than he ever was, but he wants to do so under his own name. After fighting in small places in Mexico, Adonis wants to make the jump to the big leagues and seeks somebody to train him. After being turned down by people in L.A. he removes himself from home comforts and moves to Philadelphia, looking to get tutored by his fathers greatest foe and friend Rocky Balboa.
There are a few recurrent themes and subjects of life at play in the film, with abandonment and loss playing big parts throughout, though they are just played off as life. They don’t especially focus on one area for dramatic effect and they become just another thing that these characters must deal with, which is an honest way of looking at them. Adonis seeking the tutelage of Rocky has two motives, the first more apparent one is Rocky is a legend and knows his stuff, the second is more of an undercurrent. It’s Adonis looking to get the father figure that he never had, and knowing Rocky is the closest thing he will get to knowing Apollo. And in the same vein for Rocky, this new relationship with Adonis for him is being able to have that father/son bond that he couldn’t have with his own son.
Needless to say the acting is on point in the film from the entire cast. Michael B. Jordan physically and emotionally rises to the part of Adonis, he shows flashes of the cocky arrogance of Apollo but also demonstrates the qualities of a more grounded young man who has had a tough start to life. His journey to break free from the shadow of Apollo is an interesting one, and is by no means over at the end of this film. Sylvester Stallone reminds us of the dramatic flare he has in his acting repertoire which due to his action centric films of late have been on ice. His recent Golden Globe win is very well deserved here, playing an aged Rocky Balboa who starts this film living his life out in peace away from the fight game. Tessa Thompson, who plays Bianca, the girlfriend of Adonis arguably has a story that would make a great film on its own. Bianca is a young musician who is slowly becoming deaf, her love of music keeps her feeling alive but eventually that will be taken from her. It is something only touched slightly on during the film but is a very tragic character arc and one that I personally would love to see more from.
As good as the film is, and as great as the performances are, the film is not flawless. Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed is a new film in the same mould as it’s predecessors like Rocky. There are motifs and references to the original throughout which can be nice nods (I especially liked the winks to the score that permeated through many scenes). But it would have been such a better film had it continued to be something different, instead by the end you’re left knowing you’ve seen something like this before. Ryan Coogler displays some great directing flare throughout, a fight that is one continuous take is something combat films have been missing for a long time. The film builds up nice and patiently, but possibly too patiently because when it comes to the climactic fight with ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) it speeds through the process unnecessarily quick. There are some great shots, and the fight looks good but we speed through the fight so fast it retains no tension or grip. By the time it comes you know how the fight will end, and it should have opted for a different ending.
Fans of the Rocky franchise should feel at home with Creed. It’s a good, strong film that focuses on life just as much, sometimes arguably more, as it does on the sport of boxing. Though Adonis spends the film trying to break free from the gigantic shadow of Apollo, the film can be guilty of being happy to wallow in the shadow cast by Rocky, especially in the final parts of the film. This doesn’t make the film bad but had they continued to make Creed something different, like they did at the start, then it could have been a great film. Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan have laid very strong foundations but right now Creed will remain a contender to the crown of Rocky, but a sequel has the potential to be the new champion.