2015 will most likely go down as the year of the successful reboot. Jurassic World is (at time of writing) the biggest film of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the years biggest and best action films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks to be the film to wash away the memories of the prequels. Enter Creed – the latest entry in the Rocky franchise. Unlike the aforementioned films, Creed doesn’t have a recognisable franchise in its title, heck, it doesn’t even feature the recognisable lead of its franchise as the main character. So, unlike the previous films, it has even more at stake in the realm of ‘being a good film’.
Which is why it’s something special to say that Creed is more than just a good film – it’s a great film. It is one of the best films of the year. Ryan Coogler takes the directing reigns this time and teams up again with his Fruitvale Station star, Michael B. Jordan, in the titular role of Adonis Creed. As a young teen, Adonis Johnson ended up in juvenile detention – his mum had passed away and his dad was someone he never knew (Apollo Creed), dying before he was born. Flash forward, and Adonis – ever the fighter – wants to make a name for himself, wants to be his own man, and seeks the help of his fathers old friend and mentor, Rocky Balboa, to lead him into the big league.
So, Creed is just Rocky, but it’s more than just being a re-tread of tropes from that Oscar classic. Coogler’s talent at creating an exceptionally human story within this exceptionally familiar mould is impressive, and is equaled by Stallone’s willingness to allow something creative and fresh to be done with the franchise. The characters created here are fully realised characters, each with their own arc.
Boxing films are almost a dime a dozen, so they need to set themselves apart from being the paint by numbers cookie cutter film, and whilst Creed does kind of follow a predictable pattern, it does so with great characters, it does so with great dialogue, it does so by being a purely entertaining and involving film. To labour the love on this film even further, Coogler’s direction is pitch perfect with a prime understanding of the language of film and how to execute it at the right time.
Whether it be the boxing poster strewn walls of the training gym to show the great history with the sport and emphasize the history of the characters here, or the first boxing match and its one take shot which provides an immersive take on the fight, there is no doubt that Coogler’s dedication to this story is 110% visible on the screen. These things elevate the film to another level, and in fact helps create a film that is one of the more surprisingly emotional films of the year. Heck, maybe I’m reading too much into this film, but even Coogler’s use of Skyfall as a film that Rocky and Creed watch together feels so well thought out. Skyfall of course has James Bond’s nemesis in the film, Sylva, tracking Bond down after many years to enact revenge for something that Bond was not directly involved with. I could go on more about the possibly analogy there but I’ll probably be overstepping my mark.
The core performances of Jordan and Stallone are the best of either actors career. I have only seen two Rocky films prior to watching Creed, so it’s to Stallone and Coogler credit that Rocky’s history can be seen on screen here without ever really detailing every minute detail of his history. Jordan brings the history of Apollo Creed to life through a son Apollo never met. These performances together have some of the most heartbreaking scenes together – one particular scene in a locker room chokes me up just thinking about it.
Fortunately though, it’s not all tear jerking scenes as the moments of levity come along often enough to help build the characters. Some lines could quite easily be on the nose – one short comment about Cloud saving for example – but because these characters are written with such care that they feel honest and like something that Rocky or Adonis would say.
And that’s really the key for Creed – given the path it follows, it could quite easily have been something so cheesy and so haphazardly put together, it’s a great pleasure to see that it’s in fact quite great. It’s not like the previous films in the series aren’t well loved by audiences either – Creed is written, directed, shot, scored and acted with the love and admiration of a team of people who have love for the series, and even more than that, who have love for cinema as a whole. There are shots and sequences in this film that – like Sicario from earlier this year – I can’t wait to assess further.
See this film, it’s one of 2015’s biggest surprises and one of the best.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Writers: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington