Oscars Season: Creed
In 1976, a little known film named Rocky sweeped the 49th Academy Awards, winning best picture and best director to the surprise of the whole world. "How did this low budget project about a rags to riches boxer, fronted by little known actor Sylvester Stallone, steal the limelight from such high profile films as Network and Taxi Driver?" was the question on everyone's lips. Life mirrored art as Rocky the underdog defied the odds and rose to fame...
...40 years later and the story is very different. Four sequels followed in an attempt to capture the original's success but they failed to find success and the box office diminished upon every installment. Up stepped young director Ryan Coogler, promising to offer the series a fresh spin and a new lease of life. Stallone was initially reluctant to return to his much loved character but was convinced by the direction the new film would take...
...Creed follows the illegitimate son of Rocky's infamous rival Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) and his attempts to establish himself in the boxing world away from his father's shadow. Adonis seeks out Rocky (Stallone), who is at first reluctant to get involved (art imitating life?). After much persuasion however, the two team up and, as in the original Rocky, start from the ground up.
It is soon clear from the get go that Rocky is in safe hands with director Coogler. Every frame is submerged in the grittiness of Philadelphia and its rough and tough gyms. There are a number of impressively done sequences, the highlight being a fight that is carried out in one seamless take.
The grit of the underground fighting scene is on full display and is brilliantly evoked, with plenty of urban and industrial shots that complement the blood, sweat and tears of the ring. It captures the uplifting bulldog spirit of the original and gives it a fresh lick of paint for the 21th century. The film also treads the line perfectly between nostalgia and innovation, meaning that callbacks to the Rocky of old hit home to a greater degree.
Jordan is excellent as Adonis, delivering a wonderfully measured performance as the greatly skilled but also greatly flawed young boxer. He impresses both inside and outside the ring, possessing many of Stallone's characteristics from the original but with enough originality and personally honed wit to set himself apart. The villain of the piece is "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, a vicious piece of work (think Tyson Fury) who provides an unexpected injection of Liverpudlian grit into the film and provides perfect motivation for Adonis to strive for greatness.
The other highlight is Stallone, who finally ditches the ridiculously overplayed macho role of recent years (we're looking at you the Expendables) and at last delivers a performance that matches his age. We see Rocky as a firmly grounded character, worn down by the death of both Apollo Creed (for which he feels much guilt) and his wife Adrian (Talia Shire, the underrated star of the original). He is aging and vulnerable, with Stallone delivering a brutal and very emotional performance, but is provided much hope by Adonis' chance at glory.
Creed's finale is utterly enrapturing, an ever more imaginative set piece that continually takes the breath away and keeps you guessing with every powerful punch and knockdown. The action comes thick and fast but Coogler also takes time to reflect on the pure pain and strange gracefulness of the fight, showcasing his exciting directorial skills with much aplomb.
Creed is everything this series needed. A fresh storyline, free from the cliches and confines of the tired sequels, with the exciting spirit of a young, talented actor and an equally skilled and imaginative director mean that the spirit of Rocky Balboa will live to fight another day, while Stallone delivers a beautiful, career defining performance that is fully deserving of an Oscar.