In some parallel world, there is a perfect Hollywood where writers come up with brilliant ideas, take them to a studio and they get made and we all get incredible films to watch every week and the cinema is the center of everyone’s community. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. Our Hollywood is in the business of making money and films aren’t usually made because they are a passion project but because they make financial sense. That’s not to say this doesn’t produce good films because talented directors can make executives’ ideas shine. Can Creed, a spin off of the Rocky films, get over the fact it was the product of executives wanting to make money off an old franchise?
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station) is the son of Apollo Creed through an affair he had during his boxing career. He’s taken in as a young child by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad, The Cosby Show) and he grows up hoping to emulate his late father. In order to achieve that dream he moves to Philadelphia so he can be trained by his dad’s former friend and rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, The Expendables).
Now the big fear was that this was going to end up being a re-telling of the first Rocky film. You wouldn’t blame them for doing so, most sports films are essentially Rocky and so many recent reboots of nostalgic franchises have basically been re-tellings of their first time, like the recent Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens. But while there are certain similarities, this is a fresh story. Straight up, Adonis isn’t exactly the no good bum Rocky was back in the 70s. He’s had a rather lovely upbringing with a caring adoptive mother who doesn’t want him to get hurt. The story in this film isn’t about achieving the impossible but trying to come up with your own legacy, which is quite apt considering this film is fighting to be out of Rocky‘s legacy.
The thing that makes this film even more interesting is that the original story of Rocky probably fits the opponent boxer, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew, First Feature Film) more. After all, he’s a British boxer who’s dad worked on the docks in Liverpool and is very obviously working class. As much as he’s obviously a villain because the only reason he’s retiring is because he’s going into prison, he represents the original Rocky template more. Heck, Adonis may fit the villain mold all. After all as Ricky says, he’s only getting the big fight because of his name. He didn’t fight up the ranks like Ricky did. Making both boxers have serious claims to be the hero of the story makes that final fight even more interesting.
It also helps that the actual fighting is pretty awesome. I thought that the bruising nature of Southpaw‘s boxing couldn’t be beaten, but here is Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) giving us an even more visceral experience. This comes through in the first big fight that Adonis does against a local fighter in Philadelphia because as it continues and the big punches keep coming, you realise that it is all being done in one shot. Seriously. It’s the best one shot I’ve ever seen, surpassing the complexity of Spectre’s opening tracking shot and the incredible sequence at the end of episode 2 of the Netflix Daredevil series. And the final fight with Ricky is incredible too because the power of the two boxers going at each other is simply a marvel to watch. Plus, the final fight has just enough twists and turns to make sure you don’t know who’s going to win.
Also for what is a spin off of such a longstanding franchise, it manages to keep all the nostalgia in check. When you consider how Stallone’s great rival Arnold Schwarznegger’s latest film Terminator: Genisys basically piled on the nostalgia to make up for all it’s shortcomings, it’s a marvel that this film remains so restrained. There is plenty of archive footage of the old films, but that’s in order to show how big the shadow of Apollo Creed is and how hard it will be for Adonis to get out of it. The other references are small such as Adonis wearing a similar tracksuit to Rocky and even having to chase a chicken around a yard, usually in the most Rocky of things, a montage. You end up so desperate for some nostalgia that when the first few horns of the original Rocky theme hits in the final fight, you are cheering that just as much as you are for Adonis.
Any criticisms I have of Creed would be the most tiny of nitpicks too. Rocky being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphona doesn’t really go anyway, but it does add some more emotional weight to the film and amazingly, Stallone pulls it off and proves that all those award nominations weren’t just a gimmick to reward a long serving actor. So I can’t really complain at that. I suppose my biggest complaint, which is still tiny, is that ‘Pretty’ Ricky isn’t the most memorable in the world with his big reveal basically saying the reason you should hate him is because he’s scouse and supports Everton. I mean it works, but it doesn’t make him as memorable as Apollo Creed or Ivan Drago. Some how, I can’t see a film coming out in thirty years time called ‘Conlan’.
We all know that the reason Creed was made was because Hollywood executives wanted to make more money from the Rocky franchise. Yet despite that, it was one of the best films of the last few years. And that’s because the executives were smart to hire a superb director in Coogler who was able to update the story and bring the franchise into the 21st century and make it more relatable to consider the first Rocky film to be from an ancient time. It’s great to know he will be directing Black Panther because here he has made a knock out hit.