Now this is what I call a five star film!
“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.” – Rocky Balboa
Admittedly when this film was first announced I didn’t immediately warm to the idea of a spinoff from Rocky. But after seeing Creed, it’s nice to be proven wrong. Not only is Creed a fantastic film but it does something that most film reboots and spinoffs take for granted – Creed is respectful to the Rocky legacy but is confident enough to stand on its own feet with a very thoughtful, emotional and entertaining script. In other words, it has heart and spirit.
The elemental quality of Creed will feel familiar with those who have seen all the Rocky films. Creed is on par with the first Rocky film but it makes subtle yet thoughtful changes which feels relevant and current in today’s world. Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed never shies away from the realities we live in, using boxing as a metaphor to highlight those issues. Capturing a gritty realism, Coogler presents boxing in a unique, modern light whilst celebrating the reason why we love the Rocky franchise in the first place. We all love an underdog story.
Creed follows the story of Adonis Johnson-Creed (Michael B. Jordan), a young man who’s had a troubled life. He never knew his father, Apollo (Carl Weathers). Apollo had an affair outside of his marriage and died in the ring in Rocky IV before Adonis was born. His mother passed away while he was young resulting in Adonis being in foster homes and from his first introduction on screen, he’s in juvenile detention. He’s later adopted by Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), in hope for a better life.
Now you’ll probably think this is your typical story of a black man who needs help but thankfully Creed stays away from that stereotype. In fact, what Creed presents is a positive representation of a young black man chasing a dream. It’s not only because he wants to better himself but to feel connected to the father he never knew. To put it simply, Adonis has always been a fighter and has been fighting all his life.
We see Adonis quit his company day job to pursue boxing full time. He’s an astute learner and self taught, watching boxing videos of his father, mimicking his fighting style. He wants to make a name for himself without relying on the Creed name, regularly testing himself in the amateur leagues in Mexico where he has a respectable win ratio of 15-0. Adonis has talent and confidence but he’s still raw. He doesn’t have the skills to succeed as a professional boxer as illustrated in one scene where he gets knocked out by Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward). What Adonis needs is a trainer to realise his potential. Enter the stage – Mr. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
[pointing toward Adonis’ reflection in the mirror] “That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face.” – Rocky Balboa
There’s another familiar aspect in Creed. The storyline and the relationship reminded me a lot of Mike Tyson and his former trainer Cus D’Amato.
If there’s a boxing documentary I would recommend to you all it would be to watch Tyson. In his own words Mike Tyson recounts his life both the positive and the uncomfortable negative. When he talks about his former trainer, he talks with an emotional passion that I don’t think people would even realise or give him credit for. Almost similar to the character of Adonis, Tyson never knew his father, abandoned after he was born. He grew up in a crime environment and was taken in by Cus D’Amato where he trained as a boxer. It eventually led him to become the youngest world heavyweight champion. To hear Tyson speak about what Cus D’Amato did for him paints him as a sympathetic and misunderstood character because Cus D’Amato wasn’t just a trainer to him – he was a father figure that was missing from his life. Under his leadership, D’Amato taught him life skills as well as unlocking the devastating boxing potential that Tyson had. Makes you wonder had D’Amato lived a little longer (died from pneumonia in 1985), would he had made a further difference in Tyson’s life instead of the drama that he was notoriously associated with.
That dynamic is replicated in this film. At first Rocky is reluctant to train Adonis. He feels like he’s moved passed it, content with his post life/career. But like a persistent “woodpecker” that Adonis is, he convinces him. Creed continues on the tradition of past Rocky films of that teacher/trainer relationship as observed with Rocky/Micky (Rocky I-III), Rocky/Apollo (Rocky III) and even Rocky/Tommy Gunn (Rocky V – yeah, let’s not go there).
There’s an honest sincerity in Stallone’s performance which should be praised and thoroughly deserves his Oscar nomination. It’s the best I’ve seen him in a performance. His presence doesn’t overwhelm the film. He happily takes a back seat, allowing Michael B. Jordan to take real ownership of the role. This is Adonis’ story.
We’re all familiar with Rocky’s history. Rocky Balboa touches the depth of life post boxing but Creed reinforces it. You will see Rocky in a different and emotional light. It’s a role which celebrates a second chance in life. Rocky may be too old to take the punches but certainly as a psychological teacher, Adonis is provided with the necessary skills to handle the battle in the ring. Don’t expect Rocky IV style montages (which I can happily karaoke my way through the songs!) The clever and effective use of playing “Bridging the Gap” by Nas illustrates the two worlds colliding, forming more than just a partnership but a bond of a family. Just like in any family, there’s humour and plenty of charm to go along in that journey.
Helping to shape Adonis’ character is Bianca, played by the excellent Tessa Thompson. A bit like Adrian was to Rocky, Bianca is simply not there to be the love interest. She provides Adonis the calm inspiration, telling him to accept his Creed name – not to run away from the name but to embrace it, no matter what. But most importantly, Bianca has her own dreams which is beautifully balanced with Adonis. Her dreams of being a singer and making music that’s authentic without compromising her beliefs is another positive representation of a female character on screen. The fact that Bianca suffers from a disability, a progressive hearing loss that will soon rob her of her hearing shows her own strong-willed determination. How often is that portrayed on screen in an age of blockbuster superhero films?
“We got one Rock!” – Adonis Johnson
But what sets Creed apart is in the final third where the stakes are high. Rocky is diagnosed with cancer and given how his wife was taken from him in the same way, Rocky refuses treatment. Adonis takes the news badly and takes the anger out on those closest to him. But it’s that reconciliation of never giving up and forgiveness that proves the inspiration which both characters needed. It’s a highly charged and emotional scene and everything that proceeds afterwards showcase how the big fight is more than just a match. We don’t get the classic running up the stairs moment like in the past Rocky films, but you get something more personal. It’s Adonis running with grit, determination and no fear. He doesn’t belong to the community – he’s from out of town. As he has to prove to himself about his ability and destiny, he has to prove it to the locals as well. It’s a moment of acceptance on so many levels. Adonis lets go of the anger and becomes his own man.
What I adore about Creed is that it highlights the everyday struggle. Our struggles are internal but the battles we face are real. Adonis wonders whether he can live up to the Creed name. He fights to prove himself that he’s worthy and not a mistake – a confession that emotionally broke me towards the end of the film. Rocky faces the battle of his life and while he wanted to give up, Adonis’ motivation keeps him fighting. In Bianca, she may have a progressive hearing loss but she fights to keep her music alive by continuing to find her voice in the world.
There’s an incredible empowerment in Creed that speaks volumes to our current generation. With Stallone representing the past, he passes on the boxing and life metaphor torch to Michael B. Jordan which he seizes with open arms. I hope my point doesn’t sound overly sentiment, but I do feel that Creed gives the audience the encouragement to build their own destiny. Everyone has a past but that shouldn’t define your future.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance is outstanding. I cannot praise it enough. He should have been nominated for an Oscar as well as the film itself. I’m actually dumbfounded that he wasn’t. His role goes against the typical stereotypes, presenting a character with so much depth, honesty and determination. He has come a long way from when I first noticed him in The Wire and he’s turning into a diversified young actor. Long may that continue.
Favourite film of 2016? Creed certainly sets the bar very high.