Creed – Film Review by Pierce McDonough
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler (screenplay), Aaron Covington (screenplay)
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Ryan Coogler doesn’t tweak the boxing genre’s formula with Creed, he executes it perfectly instead. While this addition to the ‘Rocky’ franchise hits all the same structural beats as its predecessors, there’s one big difference. Rocky doesn’t get in the ring this time. Rather than reluctantly returning to boxing as per usual, Rocky reluctantly trains Adonis Johnson, the son of his former rival, Apollo Creed.
Adonis refuses to adopt the Creed name, determined to prove himself a worthy fighter on his own merit. His father’s legacy appears to be more of a burden than a benefit though as he can’t escape comparisons to the legendary boxer. It’s Rocky who finally gives him a chance when he agrees to train him.
Michael B. Jordan instils an unstoppable drive in Adonis that sees him so hungry to fight, he gives up the secure life his foster mother, Apollo Creed’s widow, has provided him so that he can work his way up the boxing ranks. When he finally gets a chance to fight, it’s gripping. It all happens in one take which would impress more if films weren’t currently over saturated with superficial, single takes that exist solely for the audience to realize how good the filmmaking is. Despite the ‘single take’ trend, this scene stands out. The camera stays tight on the fighters, dancing around them as they sway back and forth, looping between them as they trade blows and whizzing past their backs to hide the invisible edits. It’s a visceral scene that throws the audience right in the middle of the ring.
The final fight doesn’t deploy the same trick. We are introduced to the ring in a long take where the camera clings to Adonis, Rocky holding his back, as they walk out from back stage. We only catch the audience in the corners of the screen but the cheers still let us know how many are in attendance. Like Adonis, we aren’t focusing on the audience, we are focusing on the upcoming fight. After he enters the ring, the cuts return as normal.
His opponent, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, is introduced in a far less subtle manner. Bursts of flames appear from pure darkness as a fire-breather approaches the ring. A hooded figure emerges from the smoke behind him. It’s very intimidating. The actual fight is decorated with the usual stylistic flourishes, such as slow motion falls and splashing specks of blood, that effectively portray the tense David vs. Goliath match.
While Creed may be the title, Rocky is certainly more than just a cameo appearance as Stallone turns in a touching and gentle performance that will be sure to tug at those nostalgic heart strings.