Tuesday 19 January 2016

Review: Creed

Review: Creed
Year: 2015 (2016 UK Theatrical Release)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone. Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Tony Bellew,  Graham McTavish.

Synopsis is here:

The bad news is that films like Creed, which has racked up a more than decent Box Office gross since opening on the 40th anniversary the original Rocky, again highlights that the cry for originality is only voiced by the minority. 2015’s top grossing hits have shown that despite the bleating, we’re pretty much through the looking glass. The good news however is that if such spin offs/sequels/reboots, etc., can be executed in the same manner of confidence that is exuded by Ryan Coogler in Creed, then the minority shouldn’t complain too much. Creed is a Rocky film through and through. Board because it has to be, sensitive when it needs to be, and bold because it’s expected. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree here, and despite there being the odd bruise from the drop, the results are still sweet enough.

With Creed, Coogler manages to transport the same feelings of candour and displacement felt in his first feature Fruitvale Station (2013), and tones down the anger and injustice. Here in Creed, similar issues and events are witnessed. Again, we have an angry young black kid who feels engaged by his surroundings and senses what he can be through application. Yet while Fruitvale Station was a dramatic re-enactment of an unjust and tragic event, Creed is infused with the kind of hope and spirit that only a fairy tale like Rocky could provide. Just knowing that the film lies in the same universe lets us know what we’re going to be in for. All the same Coogler is quick and wise to infuse Creed with smart updates. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca needs little coaxing out of a timid shell a la Adrian. The film’s first two fight sequence, set within a detention centre, dining halls and the back alleys of Tijuana, only highlights where the new fight for representation is occurring.

A potent blend of old and new, Creed is a fitting way to regenerate the franchise. As the renowned former heavyweight, Sylvester Stallone not only reminds us of how competent an actor is really can be (see also Cop Land, Rocky Balboa), with his sensitive seventh display of the down but never out Balboa. Jordan’s Creed is a perfect foil for the old hand. Jordan plays Creed with a brooding swagger and a magnetic presence. Watching the two bounce off one another and develop a credence for each other is genuinely entertaining to watch. The film is rounded off with solid support from the aforementioned Tessa Thompson as well as a welcoming appearance from Phylicia Rashād. Although her role sometimes feels a tad light.

What also feels a little featherweight, is the person who becomes the film's main antagonist; Pretty" Ricky Conlan played Anthony "Tony" Bellew. What Bellew has in physicality (he is a professional champion boxer) he lacks in the charisma. If there’s one thing that Creed really needs, it’s an Apollo.
Coolger does allow the spirit of the All American Champion hang over the film like a dense cloud. He frames the young Adonis shadow boxing against a projection of his father fighting Rocky. The first back and forth between Adonis and Rocky is tinged with the late boxer’s shadow. Even Adonis’ reasoning behind stepping into the ring is at complete odds with Apollo’s, yet it melds perfectly with why audiences loved Rocky. Even with heritage behind him, the fight for being personal identity stepping out of the crowd is just as strong with Adonis as with Balboa. Coolger exploits this element whenever he can, ensuring that once again a so called “urban” feature can feel universal.

When Creed updates, however, it really updates. The film's fights still have the “silly” knock around feel to them, but are made far more dynamic with Maryse Alberti’s wonderful one take photography. The fights are not realistic in the truest sense, but are brutally immersive in their own right. Coolger also shows his age (29) as well as his audience’s with visuals that seem to mimic that of EA’s Fight Night Series. If correct, Coolger shows that he’s not only smart with how he wishes to show black representation (highlighting Creed’s former work place is notable), but also showing new influences effectively. Too often films are criticised for feel too much like a video game. Coogler shows out to replicate such imagery, yet stay involved with the work.

It’s unfortunate that Creed stutters slightly as it hurtles towards its climax, the ease of how it’s conflicts are resolved, remind us just how simplistic the Rocky universe is. The film is clearly interested in continuing the franchise and sometimes gets a tad too carried away with such things. This doesn’t take away from the fact that when Creed hits right, it hits hard. The film holds blockbuster broadness, yet that doesn’t stop it from being a solid sports drama of its own accord. A durable spin off. With the sequel pencilled in for the near future, I’m happy to place originality to the side for this one.