Whenever there’s a build up to a big boxing match, I always find myself asking the same questions: why do they do this to themselves? Why do they participate in a sport that involves being repeatedly punched in the head? However, I have to concede that watching numerous Rocky movies is essentially the film equivalent of that: the same arcs, the same devices and the same themes being bashed into my skull. But now there’s a seventh instalment to the franchise, one not based on the Italian Stallion himself, but the son of his former rival and friend Apollo Creed. Did that mean I was in for another gruelling beating? Or would I be able to sit ringside and enjoy watching a new generation’s fresh take on the series? Ring that bell.
Actually, the answer to both questions is no. Creed isn’t a catheter for Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to submissively leak piss into as he staggers towards his seventies, even though his history with Apollo is an integral part of the plot. At the same time, this isn’t anything new. It follows the formulaic structure – be an underdog, train, run in slow motion, fight and then find a way to express emotions through your newly mangled face.
Determined to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father, but reluctant to use his last name, Adonis Johnson/Creed (Michael B. Jordan) tracks down Rocky to ask him for coaching, because he presumably wants his share of dramatic montages. At this point he doesn’t even have an opponent in mind, which, now I think about it, is obviously stupid. Eventually, a final boss figure does emerge in the form of real-life boxer Tony Bellew. His character, Ricky Conlan, is English and therefore appropriately unlikable for an American audience.
Despite using the same old beats, Director Ryan Coogler resists overusing Stallone, to the point that we don’t even see him for the first twenty minutes of the film. It successfully signifies the protagonist shift. The only problem is the new guy isn’t half as charismatic. He’s basically a ghetto stereotype with tunnel vision so acute he might as well be a racehorse. And then, to remind us what we’re missing from a leading man, Stallone delivers the best performance of his career, as a more sagacious version of the iconic character. Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is also more interesting than Adonis, playing his love interest. She’s a talented musician who’s losing her hearing, but at least she’s not being all whiny about it.
Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed attempts to rejuvenate a major franchise with young blood, but often relies on throwbacks and set pieces from the originals (the chickens return for another training scene and they’ve subsequently been awarded a Golden Globe for ‘Best Poultry in a Comedy’). There are some modern additions, like talk of ‘The Cloud’ and some bewilderingly out-of-place freeze frames, where fighters’ stats are slapped on the screen, like some rubbish computer game, but that doesn’t diminish the classic sense of despair and triumph in an uplifting, emotional film. Creed is at its best when it’s being Rocky, but I don’t think I can go another round.
Words by Chris Edwards
Written for Live for Films
Chris’s Twitter @CMEcontent