***NOTE: This reviewer saw the film, Creed, at an invite only advanced screening that took place at Solomon Pond 15 Cinemas in Marlborough, MA, on November 11, 2015.***
Release Date: November 25th
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone & Tessa Thompson
There aren’t many times when a person walks into a film not sure what to expect, and then two hours later walks out completely fulfilled emotionally. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those times.
To say that Creed is a film that touches all of the right story buttons would be understating its importance to what excellent writing, filmmaking, and acting can manifest itself to be. Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) both adds layers upon layers of gravitas, heart, determination and hustle to the already expansive Rocky universe and creates a new mythos. The story follows a young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of the Late Apollo Creed…damn you Ivan Drago. As he leaves his comfortable life in Los Angeles behind in order to become a fighter, he travels to Philadelphia to find and to coax Creed’s greatest foe and best friend, Rocky Balboa, who simply wants to live the rest of his days in peace, running his restaurant Adrian’s, to train him. To say any more about the film would spoil it for everyone and let me tell you, this is one film where you truly don’t want any spoilers. So let’s get into what made this film, in my opinion, one of the best of the year.
- The Performances – Michael B. Jordan shines as Adonis “Creed” Johnson. Through his performance, we ride his roller coaster of trying to achieve a higher self, feeling not only the highs when things are going right, but also the right hooks to the gut as Adonis deals with challenge after challenge, sometimes coming through and other times faltering (more on this later). By the end of the film, we not only feel the joy that comes to be expected from a Rocky movie, but we feel catharsis both for and with Adonis. Character (especially the protagonist) can be the backbone of a timeless film. What Adonis feels, you feel, when he cries, you cry. Jordan brings life to the character and brings life to the viewer.
- Tessa Thompson, as the aspiring musician, Bianca, brings gravitas and a more grounded take on life that Adonis needs if he is not only to become a better fighter, but also a better person. Bianca is a mix of strength, perseverance and vulnerabilty; hustle and humility; fire and love. She is both the person that someone would want in their corner and the person that would inspire you to do whatever you could to help her succeed. We buy into their love for each other, but most importantly, into their journey to find that mutual love as it organically grows. We also root for Bianca to succeed. Thompson’s seamless performance shows the struggle that aspiring artists go through in trying to become known and making the best of circumstances that are beyond our control, seizing every moment as if it were the first and last.
- Sylvester Stallone, hands down, gives one of his best performances in years. He has a vulnerability and reflective quality that only he can bring to the Italian Stallion, especially at this point in the character’s life. Stallone goes for the gold, with Rocky becoming Adonis’s Mickey. As the film progresses, and Rocky and Adonis work together, the bond that they form is magical, even when things get rough and we completely believe it. That’s a credit to both the incredible work of Jordan and Stallone.
- Rocky’s Story Comes Full Circle – Here, we get the bookend that people were perhaps looking for in Rocky Balboa (or for that matter, Rocky V). By turning Rocky into Mickey to help Adonis, it gives us synthesis. While Rocky wants to waste away until he sees Adrian on the other side, Adonis is his personal savior, while in turn he is Adonis’ as they keep each other from falling off the cliff. While Adonis’ story rightfully drives the narrative, it is Rocky’s parallel story that puts the film over the top. Rocky, while not lacing up his gloves for another fight, takes his fight to a much different battle, one that is actually more riveting than any fisticuffs could ever be.
- The Emotional Core – On the surface, this is a boxing movie. At the film’s core however, is a story of family and universal love, with a specific focus on the relationship between Adonis and Rocky (who Adonis affectionately calls, “Unc”). Rocky takes to Adonis almost immediately, trying to look out for his best interests in trying to convince him to stay away from the bloody sport, but he eventually gives in and later helps Adonis achieve his dream. We see the bond between the two deepen throughout as we see a new family unit form, comprised of Adonis, Rocky, and eventually, Bianca, who Rocky takes a liking to in support of her budding romance with Adonis. Throughout the film, leading up to the big fight, we see the ups and downs that this family unit can have. What always comes through however, is universal love. When we hurt, we hurt, and we know that sometimes that hurt can come unintentionally from the ones that we love. Yet, we always tend to come back. The reason is love.
- The Script – Note to all screenwriters, screenwriting teachers and screenwriting students: watch this film and take notes! One of the major gripes many have when writing a screenplay is its seemingly rigid structure, having to hit certain beats (emotional moments), all without the story feeling contrived. Creed‘s screenplay achieves this and then some. The beats are all there, yet not once are you ever pulled out of the story taking place on-screen. This script proves that it isn’t just about structure, it’s about what you are able to do as a writer within that structure.
What Didn’t Work:
- Nothing. This film is an absolute knockout, with the winners being Adonis “Creed” Johnson and the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa!
To sum this review up, you can’t go wrong with this film. You learn, you feel, you cry, you laugh, you smile, you live. The greatest stories are the ones where we, as viewers, can not only participate, but also glean something that not only touches our hearts but also sparks the neurons of our brains and speaks to our souls. Whether this marks the end of Rocky (both the character and the series) or whether we end up seeing a Creed 2 somewhere down the road, this film, both on its own and within the Rocky canon, will live on as not only one of the greatest sports films of all time, but perhaps, one of the greatest overall films, period.