Film Review: Creed (USA, 2015)

In 1976, a relatively unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone wrote a screenplay that would change his life and the lives of many young men from that generation forward. That screenplay turned into the boxing film Rocky, and we would grow to become or know of people who would shadow box in their bedrooms, making “dsh-dsh-dsh” noises with their mouths as they threw powerful jab-cross combos.

Rocky Balboa, the film’s protagonist, was a working class hero, who trained hard to be a fighter and won the heart of his lady love … Adriaaaaan! The Rocky franchise grew to 6 films, and introduced us to the idea that a rival could also be a friend. It took on the Cold War between the USA and Russia, which literally played out in the ring with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren as a snarling near mono-syllabic baddie). It gave the world Mr T as Clubber Lang, and damn was he an arrogant piece of work. We were taken by the song Eye of the Tiger (rising up to the challenge of our rival – you know the words), and for anyone visiting Philadelphia, the trip would not be complete without a sprint up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so you could reach the top and throw your arms up in the air in a victory stance.

It’s hard to imagine the sporting genre in film without the Rocky movies, and so much of it has been ingrained into pop culture. We’ve watched Rocky grow from a young man without a win to a husband, a father, a coach, a wannabe comeback king, and now, finally, with Creed, Rocky hands the gloves over to his new protégé, Apollo Creed’s son. And the legend continues …

Michael B Jordan (Fantastic Four, Friday Night Lights) stars as Adonis “Donny” Johnson, son of heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, who met his match against Drago in Rocky IV. Donny never knew his father, but he’s been a fighter since he was a child, brawling with the other kids. He quits his cushy desk job and comfy life, moves to Philly (natch) and enlists his father’s best friend, Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to train him. The film follows Donny’s path from an OK fighter with heart to his realisation that he can – and will – live up to his father’s name.

The film works precisely because of the heart of it all. Stallone (who serves as one of the film’s producers), with the help of director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Fruitvale Station) have ensured that you don’t have to have followed the Rocky franchise from the beginning to enjoy the film. It still stands on its own, and has all the elements of a classic boxing film. A young man eager to prove himself. An older sensei/master/coach/father figure to guide him. A beautiful young woman (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People and Selma) to give said young man something worth fighting for. And finally, a worthy opponent (actual boxer Tony Bellew), who is basically just a mean piece of work.

It’s really not a complicated formula, but it’s well executed.

As mentioned earlier, Creed stands on its own, so if you haven’t seen any of the Rocky films, you’ll be fine. The film works to introduce Donny as a champ for the new era, and they do recognise that Rocky is ageing. A lovely scene involves Rocky writing down drills for Donny to work on in the gym, only for Donny to take a snap of the paper on his phone. Rocky implores him to take the paper, but Donny tells him, “I don’t need it – it’s all in here”, indicating his phone. Rocky’s perplexed, wondering what will happen if he loses the phone or if it breaks. “Don’t worry”, Donny explains, “It’s already on the Cloud”. Rocky’s age gives him away as he looks up at the sky, “The cloud?”. Similarly, Donny’s relationship with Bianca (Thompson) speaks to the current generation. Bianca’s got ambitions of her own, she supports Donny but not at the expense of her own happiness.

If you’re going to watch the film for the nostalgia factor, you won’t be disappointed either. Donny recognises the legacy of Apollo Creed, and therefore the full Rocky saga. He references past events that happened in earlier films, he watches YouTube clips of his father’s fights, which are naturally scenes from the earlier films too. Rocky is now the owner of the Italian restaurant, Adrian’s (but, of course). Rocky tells Donny about his son and Paulie and there’s even a lovely scene where Rocky makes Donny chase a chicken as part of his training, just like Rocky had to do. Finally, you will catch a snippet – just a snippet – of the original Rocky theme song and if you’re a die-hard fan, you will want to do a little jog around the movie theatre.

Boxing and sports fans should be pleased with the stunts and fight scenes. It’s hard not to get worked up when the whole film is leading up to the big fight in the last 30 minutes of the film, and Creed does this well. The training scenes are also pretty cool, although this time around there’s no punching frozen meat. Because it’s 2015 and you just can’t do that anymore.

Creed is an enjoyable film. It’s what a good boxing movie should be, on par with the first one that started the whole franchise. You won’t be disappointed.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Creed opens nationally in wide release today.

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