Thursday, 14 January 2016

'Creed' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for what is to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points and story spoilt for you please do not read further.

I'm something of a latecomer to the Rocky series, having only watched the other films a couple of years ago for the very first time.  Despite having no interest in boxing in real life I found myself enthralled by the series and quickly fell in love, even finding myself gleefully willing on Rocky to win in each and every film (except Rocky V, but then the less said about that the better).

After Rocky Balboa, which I will always defend as an excellent film to those who criticise it, it felt hard to see anymore life in the series.  Rocky coming out of retirement for one last match was close to stretching believability when it first came out, and that was almost ten years ago!  Where could they go from there without it just becoming ridiculous?

Luckily director Ryan Coogler knew just what to do to inject life into the series.  Creed, as the name might suggest, follows a new character, making it as much the first of it's own franchise as much as it is a part of the Rocky series.

Instead of following Rocky's journey to the ring we're instead given Adonis 'Donnie' Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan, the illegitimate son of Rocky's former rival and best friend Apollo Creed.  

The film begins with a quick flashback to 1998, where we see a young orphaned Donnie in a children's detention centre, where it would seem that despite never knowing his father he at least inherited his mean punching skills.  Donnie is approached by Apollo's widow Mary Anne, this time played by Phylicia Rashad, who reveals who his father was, taking him in and raising him like her own son.

Skipping to the present we find a Donnie who has made a good life for himself, even having recently been promoted at work.  But it would appear that he's too much like his father, and the boxing bug is gnawing at him.  He quits his job, leaves LA and heads to Philadelphia, to find the one man he believes can train him to become as good as his dad was, Rocky Balboa.

Stallone doesn't even appear in the film until a good 20 minutes have gone by, stating clearly that despite being a part of the Rocky franchise, and headlining the series star himself, this is Donnie's story.  All of this is further enforced when Rocky refuses more than once to train Donnie, even after learning who his father was.

Donnie gradually wears the old boxer down though, and Rocky finally agrees to take on the young fighter, taking on the role of mentor that Burgess Meredith played so well as Mighty Mickey in the first three films.

To some this might not sound all that great, after all, Rocky has been relegated to standing in the corner shouting encouragement, how could that possibly be good?  Well, it might surprise but Creed is easily one of the best films in the series, giving us some of the best characterisation and emotional moments we've seen Rocky go through.

Creed isn't afraid to show us a vulnerable and ailing Rocky.  Since the events of Rocky Balboa he's lost his brother-in-law Paulie, his son has moved to Vancouver and even Marie, Rocky's friend and waitress from the previous film, has gone.  Rocky is alone, and he's ill.  During the course of the film Rocky learns that he has cancer, and these scenes are some of the most emotional in the whole series.  Facing his own mortality, being ready to die, but then choosing to fight to live for his 'nephew' Donnie are some of the best acting Stallone has delivered for the series, and brought me close to tears more than once.  

The emotion of the film isn't just in the hands of Stallone though, with Michael B. Jordan tearing up a storm as a young man fighting to find his place in the world.  What might initially just seem like a man who wants to fight, it quickly becomes clear that there's more to it than that, and the moment in the ring at the end of the film where he confesses to Rocky that he's trying to prove that he wasn't a mistake really hits hard.

The chemistry between the two leading men is amazing, you can see how these two people quickly come to think of each other as family, and how together they save each others lives.  Donnie might call Rocky his uncle, but he's definitely the father he never got to have.

Coupled with a somewhat gentle and sweet romance story between Donnie and his downstairs neighbour Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, a singer and songwriter beautifully embracing her passion whilst fighting against degenerative deafness.  Despite some ups and down (it wouldn't be a cinematic romance if there wasn't a bump or two in the road) the two of them come together in a way that doesn't feel too corny or hamfisted and adds nicely to the already emotion heavy film.

Creed finds its way back to the roots of the series, to that first film that saw an underdog fight for his shot at the big time, and to find himself a family and sense of belonging.  This isn't a boxing movie, in some ways it doesn't even feel like a Rocky movie, and it works brilliantly because of this.  It's a story about fighting for what matters.  From Donnie fighting to prove he wasn't a mistake and make his lost father feel proud of him, to Rocky finding something worth living for and fighting, literally, for his life, to Bianca, fighting to make the most of her love of music before she loses her hearing.

Creed is a beautifully told, beautifully shot emotional roller coaster of a film.  Ryan Coogler absolutely hits it out of the park with this film and has proven that he can bring his own excellent film making to an existing franchise, if his upcoming Black Panther film for Marvel is anywhere near as good as this it could be one of the best comic book films yet.

Sadly it would seem that Creed has been criminally overlooked, with their only Oscar nomination this year being for Stallone in the role of supporting actor.  Having delivered possibly his best performance to date with Creed he definitely deserves the nomination, and hopefully will be adding the award to the Golden Globe he already won for this film.

If you like your boxing films go watch Creed.  If you like the Rocky films go watch Creed.  If you have no interest in either but love amazingly well written character driven films with knockout performances, go watch Creed!  


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