2015/ USA

Director: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

Words: J. Wood

Every genre has a series of clichéd story points that a film follows, and the boxing movie is no different, in fact boxing movies if anything have the most clichés of them all.  Think back to any boxing movie you have ever watched, no matter the quality, and you will recall having seen;

  • A hero with some strife or inner turmoil driving him/ her.
  • A testy relationship between the brash hero and the tentative, sage mentor.
  • A burgeoning relationship brought into difficulties by his career.
  • A cliché ridden caricature of an opponent.
  • An against all odds, underdog finale.

Creed has all of these elements, in exactly the order and proportions one would expect them, yet it is a film that not only understands its genre but also understands the great legacy it is building upon.

For me Creed is the proper sequel to Rocky IV, a film I understand to be terribly of its time yet still a good Rocky movie, the last one to flirt with plausibility.  To build upon the legacy of Apollo Creed, a legacy the film is not in any hurry to let you forget, feels like the right and proper thing to do.  Leave Rocky’s outings in 5 and 6 forgotten and turn your attention to what feels like the natural lifecycle of the series.  The key reason that this film works so well is the very reason that it could have been an unmitigated disaster in its handling of Rocky Balboa.  Written for the first time by someone other than Stallone this Rocky is a mournful, strangely pathetic character whose achievements have amounted to nothing more than grief and regret.  Coogler and Covington wisely utilize Rocky sparingly, only giving him a couple of brief scenes apart from the titular hero, making clear that although this is still Rocky’s story he is no longer its driving force.  It is with great surprise and I must admit grudging pleasure that I can announce that Sylvester Stallone, a man who has been playing a very poor version of himself for as long as I can remember blew me away in this film, developing a good rapport with his younger co-stars, getting a few laughs and hitting every single one of the not insignificant dramatic notes the film asked of him.

A good deal of the praise for this ought to go to the screenplay, which is clearly written by two people who both know and love the Rocky films dearly and do such an iconic character proud.  Much like J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did recently with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Coogler and Covington use a familiar framework to fans of the franchise in order to ease back into the world, and there is just the right amount of little nods to the past without it feeling forced, and the result is an effortlessly enjoyable piece of cinema.  I have come to the conclusion having seen more than my fair share of boxing movies that almost any director can shoot boxing well, yet here Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti are the first pair since Scorsese and Michael Chapman to shoot it brilliantly, with the fights having a well and truly unexpected cinematic air to them.  On the basis of this and Fruitvale Station Coogler is a great prospect as a director, who has made two very good films and has all the tools to make a great one.

The same can be said for his regular collaborator Michael B. Jordan, who here eases into the mantle of Adonis, convincing both as a fighter and as an actor.  While the likes of Mark Wahlberg and more recently Jake Gyllenhaal never convinced me as boxers, he did, and he certainly had the dramatic chops to deal with the weightier side of the material.  There are a couple of missteps however in an otherwise very well made film, one being the casting of Tony Bellew.  Casting a real boxer adds an air of authenticity but can feel a bit like stunt casting, albeit stunt casting that was not particularly publicized.  Unfortunately, Bellew proves to be a less than great actor, and his scenes are the worst written part of the film, feeling as though they were cut and pasted in from an early Guy Ritchie film.

There is a little too much of an over-reliance in showing how things have changed via slightly excessive use of technology showing old fights, press conferences etc., although they provide a good juxtaposition with the Philadelphia setting that is all too reminiscent of Stallone’s first Rocky outing forty years ago.  Despite this I was thoroughly impressed by Creed, which for me has earnt the title every boxing film yearns for; ‘The Best Boxing Film Since Raging Bull’.