The story behind this revision, this franchise reboot of the Rocky series goes that director Ryan Coogler (whose indi Fruitvale Station was a festival circuit hit a few years back) wanted to revisit the characters from Sylvester Stallone’s pugilist universe because of a connection he had with his father, seeing Rocky II and bonding over it. That’s the story they’ve put out there, and it’s a nice one; a fitting one given the resultant film’s heavy slant on themes of fatherhood, family, destiny and legacy.
In what is essentially the seventh Rocky film (and yet, at the same time, not), Creed stands very much on its own. A more fitting moniker would be that it’s the seventh film in which the character of Rocky Balboa has appeared. In this, the film’s lineage, its DNA is rife throughout, which is again quite fitting given the recurring themes.
Earlier this year, Colin Trevorrow got his second directorial credit after the tiny indi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed with the directing gig on Jurassic World. That film went on to be the third biggest film in box office history and revitalised a franchise in the process. So it’s with Coogler’s sophomore effort in Creed that we have for the second time this year found someone from the independent scene given the chance to do as he pleases, and finds his new home in the world of major studio franchises. While Creed won’t set the world flame as the dinosaur film did, what it does do is cement the young auteur with a solid, if not supremely confident visual style and cinematic verve.
Creed provides a fine vehicle for the emerging actor Michael B. Jordan, and gives for Sylvester Stallone a fitting career high point. You walk away from the film with the revised idea of Stallone and his on screen abilities. He is, after all these years, all that nonsense, all those terrible choices, an actor. Remember that? He was an actor, and was thought as such in 1976 when he was nominated for the Oscar. This film allows him to step back from the vanity projects, the muscle man roles, the tough guy hysteria of the 80s and early 90s, and allows him to find his niche in a part that is probably the thing that he will forever be remembered. This is the Stallone that was promised in the like of the original First Blood, the Stallone hinted at in FIST, of Nighthawks, the glimpse we were given in Copland.
He has in this film the chance to show a vulnerability, and an emotional depth which had been missing from most of his screen credits. Here, he plays an old man; an old, bruised, beaten sack whose glory days are well behind him. There are a couple of moments, where Stallone gets the chance to show the last vestiges of Rocky’s tough exterior get defeated by the weight of time and experience. He’s superb in this.
As the younger Creed, Michael B. Jordan gets the star turn, and encompasses in this ‘Adonis’ a solid representation of African American youth: caught between pride and opportunity, determined to make a name for himself all the while heavily influenced by his legacy. The lad will go far; he’s a movie star on the rise.
Coogler, as a director, is one with immeasurable confidence and a unique eye. The film has a measured pace, but there are sequences and set-pieces which establish him as a director of note. You would only hope that he can bring this confidence and keen eye for the craft to whatever project comes up next.
The film is a genuine surprise. Who would have thought that a franchise reboot, the seventh in a series (aside from the space one coming out next week, ahem) with an eye to revitalising a brand could be as affecting and impressive. It’s easily the best among them. Needless to say, the trailer preceding the film for the forthcoming Point Break redux did not instil as much confidence.