CAN THE ROCKY SAGA GO ONE MORE ROUND? 6/10
Creed tells the story of troubled fighter Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), a young man struggling to escape the shadow of the father he never knew, Apollo Creed. His journey takes him from Hollywood to Philadelphia where he enlists the help of his father’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). When the truth about his lineage is revealed to the press, the young Creed soon finds himself challenged by disgraced British champion, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Whist Adonis prepares for the fight of a lifetime, Rocky must face a great challenge of his own.
The plot of Creed is simple, in many ways mirroring the plot of the original Rocky. In fact in certain parts it directly juxtaposes it; a young fighter struggling to prove himself, chosen by an unbeatable champion for his marquee value. In aligning itself against such a beloved film Creed sets itself up for unfavourable comparison when certain elements miss the target. For example the romance between Adonis and musician, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) feels totally forced, lacking any of the charm of the burgeoning relationship between Adrian and Rocky.
It is ironic that a film so focused on legacies struggles to live up to its own legacy, Make no mistake, this is not Rocky 7 and it’s not supposed to be either. But it isn’t strictly Creed 1 as the filmmakers have insisted on their publicity tour. It may be Adonis’ film but the moments when Rocky is on the screen are the moments when the film truly shines. That isn’t to say that Adonis is underdeveloped, or that Jordan does a bad job in the lead, but the audience has a decades old relationship with Stallone’s Character. The weight of that relationship is both Creed’s greatest strength and weakness.
Whilst Adonis’ past makes him wounded and angry, Rocky is as humble and loveable as ever which makes him much easier to connect with. Stallone has always been at his best when portraying Balboa as the loveable loser and his performance is on point. Moments such as Rocky reading the newspaper out loud by Paulie and Adrian’s graves only serves to further endear him to the viewer. As the film progresses it is easy to find yourself more engrossed by Rocky’s narrative than Adonis’, particularly after the champ receives some life changing news.
It should be noted though that Stallone is playing a character that he himself created forty years ago. It’s hard to know where Sly ends and Rocky begins whereas Jordan is creating his character from scratch, no easy task by comparison. But Adonis is the focal point of the film if not its heart and Jordan does do a commendable job. The character could have gone the same way as Tommy Gunn, but due to a layered performance we understand his rage and frustration, he remains likeable and you do route for him. (NB: if you don’t know who Tommy Gunn is then consider yourself lucky.) Ultimately this is the tale of two fighters, both in and out of the ring. One looking back at the life that he has lived and those he has lost, whilst the other looks forward to the path he must walk.
Where Creed does exceed its predecessor is in the ring. These have to be some of the most dynamically choreographed and shot boxing scenes in the history of cinema. Breaking away from the quick edit, close up style that has been done to death since Rocky and Raging Bull, Creed favours long, hand held shots. One of its most impressive moments is an entire fight filmed in just one single shot, the camera in constant motion around the ring. The realism of this scene alone is a credit to Jordan’s dedication, training and performance. Physically he gives it his all, it’s almost enough to make you forgive him for being involved with the awful Fantastic Four reboot… almost.
Creed isn’t a great film but it is certainly an enjoyable one, mainly for fans of the Rocky franchise but it’s still pretty accessible for people that may have been living under a rock since 1977. Like the latest Star Wars film, Creed plays heavily on nostalgia but it doesn’t necessarily build on it. Would the film fare as well without Rocky in it? That is doubtful, but Adonis’ destiny is so intertwined with Rocky’s it’s almost impossible to separate them. If this is truly the launch of a new franchise then it is likely we will find out sooner rather than later if Adonis can carry a film on his own, but for the time being it’s not quite his time to fly yet.