Release: 16th May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of deceased world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, has boxing in his blood. Looking to win his own title, Adonis heads to Philadelphia and convinces his father’s rival-turned-friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to train him – even as Rocky battles his own deadly opponent outside the ring.
If, as Last Action Hero mused, characters live a life outside of their cinematic depictions, then poor old Rocky Balboa has really been through the meat grinder. Beaten, broken, widowed and abandoned; now in its 40th year, the Rocky franchise, much like its title character, is looking a little punch-drunk and forlorn. It has been a long and uneven road for the ‘Italian Stallion’, with what started as a richly uplifting tale of the underdog now here as a tolerable musing on the foils of living in the shadow of greatness.
Creed tells the tale not of Balboa this time, but of Apollo Creed’s son, albeit a bastard one, Adonis Johnson. Young Adonis (see what they did there!? Apollo…Adonis!?) has grown up surrounded by life’s greatest wealth, except that is, for the love and presence of his father. Adonis is angry – and boy, can that kid fight! In fact, Creed comes packaged with a particularly brutal looking punch up, as pre-pubescent Adonis makes short work of some punk in juvie. But this film is a messy affair, that doesn’t know what it really wants to say, or where it wants to go.
Creed travels a strange road, as it feels a tad familiar (see Rocky V) whilst also feeling really rather redundant. Creed would function perfectly as its own standalone project, but instead spoils itself trying to fit in. We don’t need the baggage of trying to sandwich Adonis into Rocky’s world. Nor do we need the tenuous throwbacks to the film’s history. In fact, the latter is often completely off target. In the original film, Rocky climbed steps, reaching a place of physical achievement whilst also literally elevating himself to a point where the city was at his feet. In Creed, we get Adonis (someone who grew up in a mansion) running through the projects surrounded by wheelie popping ‘hoodlums’ on motorbikes. The image is of a boy overcoming stereotypical oppression, by hanging out with anti-social clichés. What are we trying to say here? Creed sometimes veers into this relm where it almost wants to make a statement about blue collar society or ethnic experiences; but can never be bothered enough to puruse this. It speaks volumes about the movie, as very little of what we see matches what we hear. Creed claims to be about fathers and sons and about the transcendence of talent over prejudice. But it is really a film littered with paradoxes. Still, at least Creed doesn’t have a soulless re-tread of the Rocky-Adrian relationship…oh wait, it does!
Thankfully, Creed does has three things going for it; Michael B. Jordan, Sly Stallone and director Ryan Coogler. The biggest problem facing the usually charismatic Michael B. Jordan is that Adonis is a rather unlikeable guy. He doesn’t have the Goodwill Hunting-vibe of diamond in the rough, nor does he have the cheeky glint of arrogance that, say, Will Smith captured in Ali. No, Jordan’s Adonis is just really rather dull. He strops, he begs, he hits and he cries. Thankfully, he still manages to give the film a very impressive physicality. His Adonis might only be a one note song, but it is a song that thrashes with rage like a something heard in Mad Max: Fury Road. Stallone, meanwhile, wonders around a lot of Creed like a senile Xerox of Paulie. In spite of this, he manages to take hold of what could easily have been throw away moments of token plot points, and ensures that despite being on the mat, Rocky isn’t yet out for the count.
Then there is Coogler. Still very green, Coogler handles Creed with a lot of confidence. Some of his experiments fail while others really take hold. The one take boxing match might not capture the agony or joy of the sport, but it sure does feel brave. And ultimately, that is what a film like Creed needs more of; guts. Because if ‘Eye of the Tiger’ taught us anything, it’s that without guts you’ve got no glory.
Film Grade: C-
Warners are normally excellent at providing engaging and worthwhile special features. Unfortunately, Creed falls a little by the wayside.
A semi-Making Of takes a look at the past and future of the franchise, while also taking a breakneck whizz through the film’s production. An all too brief Becoming Adnois rightfully applauds Michael B. Jordan’s dramatic efforts to ‘become’ the son of Apollo Creed.
Last up, we have Deleted Scenes that offer more unnecessary footage of the Adonis /Bianca side story. But these also bring some touching moments with Rocky; in particular a delve into his VHS library. Remember those!?
Special Features Grade: C-
Creed is high unlikely to inspire a rise in gym memberships, but it is great to see Rocky passing the torch to a worthy successor.