Sylvester Stallone once again steps into his Rocky Balboa persona. It’s the one that brought him success at a time he was struggling to make ends meet, and the role that revived his career after multiple misfires. After winning a Golden Globe for the latest portrayal of the Philly boxer, and receiving an Academy nomination, it’s time to see if Creed is a movie that can go the distance.
With award season in full swing, and Stallone receiving surprise appreciation, it’s only right the interest in Rocky is once again high on the agenda. But it should be noted Stallone’s nominations have been in the Supporting category and that Creed isn’t a further extension of the Rocky Legacy. That was neatly wrapped up in Rocky Balboa.
This is a story set in a familiar universe but coming from a fresh perspective. What Stallone does here is serve as the cement, bonding the old with the modern, the myth with reality. In doing so he gives an outstanding performance. It is easy to be sceptical about the award nominations. Are they a polite way of noting his lifetime achievements? Absolutely not. Stallone delivers a performance that surpasses the one delivered in Rocky and beyond another else in his long career.
If time catches up with us all, it has caught Rocky and dragged him back to earth.
But Stallone doesn’t hide behind his spectacles in the way Dustin Hoffman did to cover his performance in Papillion. His aged version of Rocky is a genuine examination, leaving every facet of his character open for the world to see. It has every intricate detail of authenticity required to portray the character.
Even in Rocky Balboa, a movie that attempted to press the reset switch on comic book shenanigans and moved the franchise back to drama, the title role was played like he was a wholesome hero. In Creed we see the flaws in Rocky. These human faults add the final level of detail to a character already well covered and much loved.
A character study-esque moment from Stallone wouldn’t be enough to make Creed the movie it is. That’s where Michael B. Jordan comes in. He plays the illegitimate son of legendary deceased boxer, Apollo Creed. Jordan gives a performance that also deserves awards. His level of believability is what assists Stallone in exploring the deeper nuances of the Italian Stallion.
It’s also his story.
As Adonis Johnson, he attempts to make his own path without using his father’s name. He is filled with anger and fear. His birth mother died when he was young, meaning he went through the juvenile system, always determined to fight his corner. Apollo’s widow located Adonis and raised him as her own.
But he has his father’s blood, his passion for boxing, his desire to be the best.
He finds Rocky, after walking away from his easy life and good job, to train like it’s the old days in Philadelphia. Cue the love interest, played by a convincing and impressive Tessa Thompson. She is an upcoming singer with troubles of her own. When her cold exterior melts the two learn to trust and inspire one another.
Also cue the training montages. But they feel fresh and for the first time the plot drives these sequences rather than serves as an excuse for them.
It also includes the best fight scenes seen in a boxing film. And it’s the movie Southpaw wanted to be but came up short. This film does acknowledge the way modern boxing is run, includes the presentation of the modern sport, and still manages to be a drama first.
Tony Bellow, the real life Liverpudlian boxer, could be seen as the only weak link. His character, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, is one-dimensional and lacks any true charisma. But the story is about Adonis. The challenge was never the man opposite him in the ring. And Bellow does bring in-ring craft that enables the fight sequences to excel.
Director Ryan Coogler has surpassed expectation and produced a modern, contemporary movie. It nods to its source material, but unlike The Force Awakens which ran on a nostalgia trip for two hours, the attention is paid out of respect without it ever feeling like a rehash of old ideas. A startling feat when you consider how many underdog tales require the same ingredients.
After its box office success there will be a sequel. Stallone has handed the baton to very capable hands.