The legend of Rocky flows through Creed‘s veins and drips with the sweat of 70’s movie moxie while firmly planting itself in modern cinema and punching us right in the face.
This reboot/sequel (?) hybrid cherishes the legacy of Rocky but is uniquely a modern story. You may have thought Rocky’s story was over in Rocky Balboa, but Hollywood ain’t done yet, and I’m sure glad they’ve gone back to this well. Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) re-teams with Michael B. Jordan who stars as Adonis Creed. His father’s death before he was born and his celebrity shadow hang over him as a young boy who hops from institutions to family homes.
The Rocky films were about the American dream and slowly as they grew into Reagan era cinema the films became extremely jingoistic reflections. Rocky ended the goddamn cold war and the movie plays it dead serious, which, ya sorta gotta admire.
Creed is a film about modern America in another way. It’s the experience of the urban black child. In the peripherals of the film’s genre conventions are notes of social text that are snacks for the more intellectually hungry moviegoers. Yum.
Initially Rocky is unable to understand Adonis in a social and generational context. He’s befuddled, even. It’s a humorous and light building of two things that are essential to the film: a meeting of generations, both socially and with the Rocky films themselves, as well as a cultural meeting of America’s (80’s and 2010’s).
Stylistically Coogler is more inspired by Mann’s Ali and Scorsese’s Raging Bull than any of the Rocky films. Tracking shots and exquisitely edited fight sequences are shots of adrenaline. Halfway through I knew that I was watching one of the best directed films of the year. The training sequences defy usual convention and lean on editing and humor instead of outright rah rah inspiration (there’s plenty of that too).
Yes, it has goose bump inducing fights, inspiring training sessions, and a Conor McGregor esque villain boxer but the details and personal touches are it’s knockout punch: An image of Rocky sitting on a chair reading the paper in a cemetery. A boy staring into an adults eyes asking for help. Rocky looking off screen like a worn down war hero. Quick edits back to Adonis’ childhood as he lay on the ground beaten. Those are precise and personal things usually reserved for independent films and for a few select auteurs that have made it in the studio system.
What makes Creed a triumph is it’s rich emotional payoffs. The arc of the original film is the template while Coogler also re-contextualizes the staples of the genre. Just as Warrior (2011) did, it bites the bullet and embraces convention rather than fighting it. Sure, it can get too corny and familiar but Coogler’s skill makes it authentic.
Adonis’ romance with a neighbor, Bianca, (Tessa Thompson) feels like a different film (albeit a very good one) at times and runs a tad long. Excellent work from the actors, and but it’s flab and the only slight misfire in a story that’s entirely about a boy who has no father and an old man whose no longer got anyone in his corner. But I’m nitpicking really.
Coogler has made a film about what this entire series has secretly always been about, even at it’s most absurd; loss and growth. Adonis/Rocky’s witty banter and emotionally charged relationship lights up the film.
Stallone delivers the best supporting performance of the year and maybe the best of his career. A much needed reminder that he’s a great actor when given good material. A third act speech from Rocky is sure to send audiences reaching for tissues. As a father/son story it’s up there as one of the best this century.
Coogler teases the iconic score and it’s a bit of a masterclass in how to create build up before releasing a giant hay-maker that’ll send shivers down your spine. Really, it’s arguably the best Rocky sequel and I say that as someone who adores 2 and 3. That a studio sports film could be a relevant racial/generational study, is impressive. When it embraces it’s conventions while also reinventing them, it’s one of the best films this year. Rocky’s still swinging.
Reviews for Mockingjay Part 2, The Good Dinosaur, Trumbo and Brooklyn later this week