CREED (Warner Bros.)
Dir. Ryan Coogler, Script. Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone
Plot: Despite father Apollo being killed in the ring, son Adonis (Jordan) enlists long-retired champion and friend of his father Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to train him.
When Creed, a reboot of the Rocky franchise, was announced by MGM and Warner Bros. a couple of years ago, many analysts merely saw it as a desperate attempt by the two beleaguered studios to restart a series of films that they could make reliable profits from. However, Creed has far surpassed the expectations of nearly everyone in recent months; suddenly, Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler has helmed this film into the Oscar conversation.
MICHAEL B. JORDAN CONFRONTS A FAN SAYING ‘I DIDN’T THINK YOU WERE THAT GOOD IN FANTASTIC FOUR’
What’s even more impressive is that Coogler has seemed to pull a rabbit out of thin air – his direction lifts a sometimes formulaic film to something more. Coogler really gets all aspects of Creed that he attempts to convey, and does so with a brilliant technical class. With this, his previous film Fruitvale Station, and Marvel’s Black Panther movie ahead of him, Coogler is beginning to build a very impressive body of work – his direction is so capable that #OscarsSoWhite might have a point.
However, Coogler only provides the framework for Sylvester Stallone, in his seventh portrayal of the Italian Stallion (possibly now his cinematic alter-ego). Again, in another rabbit-out-of-thin-air story, Stallone has found himself not just in the race for Best Supporting Actor, but head-and-shoulders above his competitors. As such, you’ll be unsurprised to hear Stallone delivers his best on-screen performance – he completely embodies his character as per usual, but laces Rocky with greater wisdom and dignity. As much as I would love to see Stallone take an Oscar, I personally feel like his nomination is based on his entire Rocky career – if we’re going on this one performance, I have to say he’s nowhere near the complex and nuanced performance of Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies.
PLAYING ROCKY FOR THE SEVENTH TIME, SYLVESTER STALLONE HAS BECOME A MAJOR OSCAR CONTENDER
In fact, if there’s anybody I could nominate for an Oscar, it’s Creed himself, because Michael B. Jordan is a livewire (again, #OscarsSoWhite might have a point). Jordan comes straight back into form after he was last seen in Fantastic Four, a movie so bad the racial controversy he found himself embroiled in over his casting in a traditionally white role was probably the best aspect of the entire debacle. If you’ve seen Fruitvale Station (a really underrated movie which I believe should have gained more accolades), then you’ll know Coogler can get the best out of his young charge, and Jordan delivers with a passionate and dedicated performance – he gives the son of Apollo Creed layers of angst and fear above an unbreakable drive to succeed.
CREED’S MAIN RIVAL IS RICKY CONLEY (TONY BELLEW), SEEN HERE BEING AGGRESSIVELY SCOUSE
However, Creed occasionally falls down: while Stallone is given a great, well-conceived and well-handled arc, Jordan’s is sometimes difficult to invest in. Within five minutes, we see him being a highly rated financial advisor that lives in a mansion – certainly not a rags-to-riches story. Also, Jordan’s emotional turmoil is just as quickly resolved as it’s shoehorned into the plot, seemingly just to get Jordan to underdog status in time for his big fight with #1 pound-for-pound boxer Ricky Conley, a cardboard cut-out with a Scouse accent that only exists to punch and be punched, giving Creed his story arc.
Also, while Coogler’s direction of the boxing sequences is absolutely superb, a fight in the middle of the film felt slightly disjointed to me – Coogler attempts (and brilliantly succeeds in) filming a mid-film fight in a single shot, but when Coogler never chooses to use this technique again I began to think it was only featured to make the film look clever. The film’s screenplay, also from Coogler, has passable dialogue but focuses on characters, attempting to give his protagonists three-dimensionality – however, when it comes to Creed’s love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson in a solid performance), her character is fleshed out much more than her overall role.
DIRECTOR RYAN COOGLER IS ABLE TO BRING THE VERY BEST FROM MICHAEL B. JORDAN
On technical aspects, Ludwig Goransson’s score and soundtrack makes the city of Philadelphia (well shot by DP Maryse Alberti) soar, while also offering hark-backs to the original Rocky movies at the right moments. The film is also really well lit – there’s never a point where I have to stress my eyes, which in action-oriented filmmaking such as this really improves the overall experience. If I was to sum it up, Creed is a bit like The Force Awakens – both are their franchise’s seventh instalments, both play it safe narratively by following the arc of their franchise’s first instalments, and both take familiar aspects and film them very well – setting up their franchise’s new instalments.