Director: Ryan Coogler Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson Running Time: 133 minutes
Having watched poor Michael B. Jordan struggle to roll the acting rock up the enormous, nonsensical hill that was Fantastic Four last year, it’s a real relief to see him working with a very good role again.
Adonis Creed leaves behind his job to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer, with the shadow of his father Apollo hanging over him. Donnie’s relationship with the father who died before he was born is an interestingly complex one: wanting to follow in his footsteps but not coast on his legacy, being inspired by him but feeling abandoned by him at the same time. He’s an underdog that’s similar but different to Rocky himself, he’s layered and sensitive but he’s got more of an angry streak than Rocky did. His relationship with Rocky, who he coerces into training him, is similar to the old Rocky/Mickey dynamic, but different enough to be avoid feeling like a retread. Rocky is of course too much of a sweetheart to ever tell anybody they’re a bum.
Seeing as he created the character to begin with and has been playing him on and off for decades now, Sylvester Stallone brings a lot to his performance as Rocky, to the point that the new titular character is at times upstaged. In the back half of the second act, the film does lose the Creed thread a bit to focus on the medical troubles of his mentor. The two stories are perhaps not as well told as they would have been if the focus was on just one and it would have been nice to flesh out the relationship between Creed and the gradually deafening musician Bianca (Dear White People‘s Tessa Thomson brings good character to a thin love interest role), but the film manages to pull it together in the end and the performance is good enough to justify the focus, since Rocky Balboa has always been Stallone’s outlet to show that he has more to him as an actor than the meathead roles he took for paycheques, He may be the guy who roids himself up for Expendables movies and helped found Planet Hollywood, but the years (that are really showing here) only to continue to add poignancy to the typically humble Rocky. He feels that he has nothing left to fight for in life, until Adonis shows up. As ever with this series, the maudlin line is skirted, but thankfully in the capable hands of director Ryan Coogler, Creed manages to stay onside.
The fights are a real opportunity for Coogler to shine and he does an excellent job. Each fight is handled slightly differently, whether its hanging the camera over the shoulder, showing one presented as one take, or by amping up the sound and focusing on minor details, like the flashing of cameras or the smearing of Vaseline by the cutman. It’s exhilarating and disorienting and the moments that Coogler is able to bring some style in are when the film is at its best. By the time the classic Rocky theme finally kicks in, its almost impossible not to get swept up with enthusiasm. New life has definitely been brought into this series and it will be interesting to see where it goes next. Give me Adonis Creed versus cyborg Ivan Drago, hell why not?