Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his famous father, the late boxing champion Apollo Creed, but boxing is still in his blood, and so he travels to Philadelphia to seek out former world champion Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to persuade him to be his trainer. A former close friend of Apollo Creed, Balboa is at first reluctant, but the two form a strong bond on both a professional and personal level, and Adonis finally gets his big shot at a big title, but very much as the underdog.
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa has had more comebacks than anyone would ever deem necessary, but at least for the latest chapter in the story of the character that he pretty much owes his career too, he has hung up his gloves and left that to younger blood. As a story Creed is as generic and predictable as they come, but despite its flaws and contrivances, it still manages to engage and the inevitable finale excite, and this is thanks mainly down to its two main performances, but also director Ryan Coogler.
At nearly two hours and twenty minutes, Creed is way too long for the kind of film it is. Though there does seem to be legitimate attempts at supposed character development from Coogler and his fellow screenwriter Aaron Covington, these make the film feel too bloated and slow paced while achieving very little as there is one inescapable fact; this is a Rocky film!
There are way too many subplots and heart-to-hearts for the film’s own good and they do make the whole experience a little tiresome and too much hard work at times and threaten to undo the solid, if slightly generic premise. This is a film that was always going to be predictable to some extent, so it best to just get on with it and give the audience some cheesy montages and a textbook underdog story, but a 100 minute running time is sufficient!
Well we do get the montages and clichés, but what saves the film most are the two performances; Michael B. Jordan has made some bad decisions recently (That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four) but has proved his worth in the likes of Chronicle and in particular Fruitvale Station and makes sure that his character is more than just a walking cliché to give a performance that makes Adonis Johnson/ Creed a truly engaging character worth routing for. However the true star of film is Sly Stallone; subtle or understated are not usually words to associate with his roles or performances, but in what is a deservedly Oscar nominated role he finds a level of quiet, understated subtlety in his performance, and it makes the relationship between Adonis and Rocky an emotionally engaging centre piece of the narrative.
Though it does appear that director Ryan Coogler sometimes thinks he is making a generation defining masterpiece (he isn’t), his visual style does also, on the whole, add to the film. There are plenty of visuals of the rougher parts of Philadelphia and moments that pay homage to the franchise’s history that rouse the underdog spirt of the best Rocky films, and a fight captured in one, long take is very well put together. Though Creed is a 12a, Coogler takes advantage of the context from the fact that though it is essentially two men punching each other, it is sport and therefore the violence can be more graphic and blood more prevalent than is usually allowed in a 12a.
As the film (slowly) gets to its finale and the final fight, many narrative elements are never in any doubt, but the great performances and the director’s obvious passion for the subject matter make sure that Creed is still an engaging romp that breathes new life into the Rocky franchise.
Despite being way too slow and long and threatening at times to take itself a little too seriously, Creed unashamedly ticks of the narrative checklist, but thanks to two great performances is a watchable and engaging romp that unashamedly embraces its inevitable narrative predictability.