Monday, November 30, 2015

A Reel Review: CREED

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone captured the hearts of the world with his Rocky Balboa character; a Philadelphia boxer with the heart of a lion, and altered the pop culture and sporting worlds forever. After five sequels spanning nearly 40 years, Stallone moves Balboa to a supporting role in the first ROCKY spinoff, CREED.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late famous boxer Apollo Creed, a former opponent and friend of Rocky Balboa (Stallone), seeks to make a name for himself in the boxing world. Adonis travels to Philadelphia and seeks out Rocky for training, while Rocky himself faces his toughest challenge yet.

Famous mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell once wrote about the connection that is often found between people at the end of their lives and people at the very beginning of their own. It is a gold mine for storytelling that the cinema world has mined extensively, and that is the heart and soul of CREED. With Adonis seeking out his own identity with a desire to know the father that he never met, and Rocky now alone with his old friends now passed on and his health not what it used to be, the stage is set for the two men to find common ground. It’s an old matchup, but director Ryan Coogler, working from a script co-written by Aaron Covington (this is the first ROCKY-involved film not at least co-written by Stallone), does not allow his film to all into any old and tired clich├ęs. Instead, a great amount of conflict and emotion is injected into the story, and as Rocky and Adonis circle around each other like fighters, some great drama unfolds both in the ring and out.

CREED is a film which is saturated in nostalgia, but never leans on that like a crutch. There are plenty of homages and winks towards the past, and Coogler uses them as building blocks or launching pads for even further storylines. Even though CREED feels so very familiar, it avoids any cookie-cutter type storytelling and is certainly its own beast. The culture of Philadelphia is on full-display, and the score by Ludwig Goransson uses some of the old ROCKY themes while bringing some new ones…much of it sounding like an Old West theme. The fight scenes are brutal and realistic…and an early bout which is an un-interrupted, single-shot from the locker room to the end of the fight…has to be seen to be believed.

Michael B. Jordan is fantastic as the son of Apollo Creed. He doesn’t channel any of the flamboyance that his fictional father once had, and he isn’t asked to either. His character is a troubled and lost soul, and Jordan plays it perfectly. As good as he is, he is clearly upstaged by Stallone, who puts in the performance of a lifetime at long last. This time ol’ Rocky is going through some serious shit, and Stallone puts on a display of equally serious emotion. The supporting cast of Tessa Thompson (as Adonis’ love interest), Phylicia Rashad (Adonis’ mom), and real-life boxer Tony Bellew (as the final opponent) are all excellent.

As a boxing film, it is necessary for CREED to have a final fight, and it delivers with perfection. It is rousing and powerful, and then leads into a quieter wrap-up which is sure to have viewers reaching for the tissues. CREED is a powerful and beautiful film, worthy of a champion’s belt.


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