By Brian Surber
Creed hits hard. One of the most emotionally charged films of the year, it packs a punch. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler has crafted a powerful experience while reinvigorating a franchise the right way, through natural character progression. With devastatingly powerful performances and the best boxing sequences since Raging Bull, Creed is a sure-fire knockout. My apologies for all the boxing puns, it was too tempting. But damn is this movie good!
A sequel and spin-off (sequel-off?) of the Rocky franchise, the film focuses on Rocky’s formal rival Apollo Creed’s son Adonis. Chronicling Adonis’ coming up in the boxing world, Creed provides an allegory for the passion and pain dealt with throughout our lives. Each of the three main characters goes through a different journey with the same desired end. Faced with personal demons, through the inevitability of time, they must confront and overcome their hesitation to move forward and, well, fight.
Michael B. Jordan (I’ve been on the hype train since his time on Friday Night Lights in 2009) is simply electrifying in his first mainstream starring turn. Carrying the screen with passion and charisma he infuses Adonis with an unshakable spirit. Adonis knows what his name means and the weight it carries, yet he’s reluctant to own the reputation and therefore expectations. His goal to create a name for himself all his own is admirable if not misguided as he needs to forgive his father and honor what it takes to bare his name.
Jordan thrives in a performance as physical as it is emotional. His Adonis is a fully formed character when we meet him with his own goals and accomplishments. The film spends little time introducing us to Adonis’ personality knowing full well that Jordan will bring him to life for us as the moments become necessary. It’s a performance of embodiment and one of the best leading turns this year. People will be quick to call Jordan the “next Will Smith” or the “next Tom Cruise.” What I’m most looking forward to is Michael B. Jordan becoming the “first Michael B. Jordan.” This is only his beginning.
As Adonis’ love interest Bianca, Tessa Thompson completely transcends the “love interest” label. In an age when the quality of roles for women is rightfully put under scrutiny, Bianca is as fully formed as any I’ve seen all year. Suffering from a progressive loss of hearing, she spends her days singing with her band, making and listening to music. Enjoying her time left doing what she loves, even knowing she soon won’t be able to, Bianca is the strongest character in a film filled with muscles. Thompson, so incredible in Dear White People, shines the film’s most surprising character.
Thompson may portray the film’s most surprising character, but she does not give the most surprising performance. That belongs to a one Sylvester Stallone. Portraying Rocky for the seventh time in 39 years, Stallone gives what might be the greatest performance of his career. Embodying the Italian Stallion as a man isolated and drifting, Stallone provides some deep character work for his most iconic role. He knows the character inside and out and is able to dig deeper by not introducing us to Rocky yet again but trusting the audience to understand the man before the movie. It’s an Oscar worthy performance and an incredible career achievement for the 69-year-old Stallone.
With this, his second feature film EVER, Ryan Coogler (director and writer of the brilliant and Michael B. Jordan led Fruitvale Station) proves his talent and makes me really jealous in the process. At just 29 years old he has created a film that stands apart from most every other sequel-off in town. He brings Rocky back and makes him and his values relevant again by allowing the story to progress naturally. The values and familiar plot points are here and they feel not cheap or obvious but necessary as everything about this film seems to be how it is meant to be. Sentimental, brutal, emotional, stirring, triumphant; Creed is a 1970s crowd-pleaser in the shell of 2010s grit.
Coogler’s direction and the cinematography by Maryse Alberti (Taxi to the Dark Side, The Wrestler, and the highly underrated Get Over It) is flush with contemporary flourishes that flawlessly compliment the film’s idealism. The fight scenes are quite breathtaking. The early fights involving long continuous takes are especially affecting as the action happens in front of our eyes without cutting, almost daring us to not blink. And the unflinching finale, which is as brutal as any fight scene a PG-13 rating allows, is harrowing in its realistic nature.
The appeal of the Rocky franchise has always been its big beating heart; providing its audience with a figure of resilience and strength to inspire us all. Creed continues this mission statement by provided three main characters that all have to help each other find the resilience and strength in themselves. This is confident filmmaking and not only one of the best Rocky films but one of the best films of the year. Wonderfully cinematic and dynamic till the end, Creed is impactful filmmaking and a pound for pound winner.