Monday 2 July 2018

Movie Review: Creed (2015)

A boxing drama and a Rocky series spin-off/sequel, Creed succeeds in rejuvenating the franchise by elegantly calling on the past to inspire the future.

Adonis Creed is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed, who famously gave Rocky Balboa his initial title shot. Adonis is the product of an illicit affair and was born after Apollo died. After stints in juvenile detention centres and foster homes, Adonis is adopted by Apollo's wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) and receives a privileged Los Angeles upbringing. But boxing is in his blood, and in his early twenties Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) gives up his comfortable life and moves to Philadelphia, where he seeks out Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), now a restaurant owner.

Initially reluctant, Rocky eventually accepts to coach the son of his former rival and friend. Adonis also meets and starts a relationship with singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson). After one bout Creed's name recognition earns him a shot at "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), the tough Liverpool-based light heavyweight champion. But the preparations for the bout are hampered when Rocky receives unwelcome news, and has a fight of his own to contend with.

Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, Creed is ostensibly the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise, but can more appropriately be considered the start of a new story. About forty years after the first film, the next generation steps to the fore, and Stallone (who co-produced) finally latches on to a worthwhile follow-up central character. At over 130 minutes the film is longer that it needed to be, but features enough character-driven highlights augmented by echoes of the past to sustain momentum.

The underlying themes are of course familiar. Adonis Creed is dealing with unresolved issues related to never knowing his father and wanting to be his own man, and he goes by the name Donnie Johnson to try and carve out his own legacy. But his raw boxing skills create an unmistakable bond to Apollo, and Adonis' journey is about resolving what and who he fights for. Michael B. Jordan's brooding performance contains more than enough humanity to make Creed's growth a worthwhile arc.

Part of growing up is positively influencing others, and the connection that develops between Creed and Rocky is a large part of the film's appeal. The relationship contains both surrogate father-son and coach-boxer elements, but goes farther, Creed finding the opportunities to demonstrate his rise and development outside the boxing ring.

Rocky is the grizzled inspiration, mentor and channel to the past, and Sylvester Stallone delivers some of his career best acting in the role he is most familiar and comfortable with. It is a pleasure to witness the Rocky character embracing twilight and gracefully accepting the weight of all the accumulated pain and joy of a life well lived.

In keeping with the better installments of the series, the actual boxing scenes are relatively few as the film builds to the final climactic showdown between Creed and thuggish champion Conlan. Not unexpectedly the boxing action is of the non-stop slugfest variety that barely resembles the real thing, but this is Hollywood.

The upstart son of a former champion will need to create his own legend in the ring. Creed is a good start, with doubtless many future rounds to follow.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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