Movie Review: CREED (2015)

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creed_posterCREED (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Review by Gilbert Seah

Though featuring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, CREED (alternative title – ROCKY VII), the 7th installment of the ROCKY franchise is an anomaly. It does not contain Rocky in a fight scene and is not a film that is either written or directed by Stallone. CREED is a spin-off from the original series, but it pays homage to the series.

CREED feels like an African American film instead of an Italian American film. It is not difficult to see why as CREED was co-written and directed by Ryan Coogle, best known for his breakout anti-racial film FRUITVALE STATION in which a black man (also played by Michael B. Jordan) was abused by white cops. Everything from the acting, music (lots of rap) and dialogue are African American. And that is a good thing as the film has a more authentic look than many of the other 6 ROCKY films.

Rocky in this film is left in a supporting role. Rocky Balboa is sought by Adonis Creed (Jordan) to be his coach. One wonders who would name his boy Adonis. Unless the father has a name like Apollo, of course. Adonis is the illegitimate son of fighter Apollo Creed. Sylvester Stallone plays his supporting role surprisingly well, winning him a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His character comes down with cancer and has to fight to survive.

One of the most important points of a boxing film are the execution of the fight scenes. The final match between Creed and Conlan (Tony Bellew) the British world light heavyweight champion shot in Liverpool, England is done with the usual cuts. The camera switches back and forth among the boxing action, the boxer’s faces, the coaches, the spectators and Creed’s girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and ‘adopted mother’ (Phylicia Rashad) to heighten the excitement.

There is no skimping of the blood to emphasize the punishment boxers have to endure for the sport. The bloody slow-motion bloodied knockout on the ring canvas will long be remembered. But the first match between Creed and Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris) is done with one single take. This elegant sequence should be seen to be believed with credit given to director Coogle for achieving this feat.

But story-wise, the film often falls into cliched territory. Creed learns the ropes from Rocky. When Rocky is diagnosed with cancer, he initially refuses treatment. So, the audience can only winch when the story goes into – Rocky can learn from Creed as much as Creed can learn from Rocky. Coogle also pushes the sentimentality a bit too far to make Rocky too much the lovable lug. Another example of heightened sentimentality is the part where Rocky visits his ex-coach, Paulie’s grave and begins talking to him.

But the film succeeds from the fight scenes and the superlative acting from both Stallone and Jordan. Jordan body is perfectly cut and muscled like a boxer in top form. The film also pays homage to the Rocky films such as the final scene where Creed and Balboa climb the famous steps to the Philadelphia art museum. And when the Rocky anthem by Bill Conti is heard on the soundtarck, one can feel the nostalgia.

CREED has been hailed critically and the film has done Stallone a good turn at the box-office.

It is difficult to imagine that it has been almost 40 years since the first Rocky was screened. CREED is dedicated to the late producer Robert Chartoff (passed away in 2015) who also produced the first Rocky. The first weekend gross was $40 million, above the $35 million production cost. Stallone has been struggling before with his EXPENDABLES films. Rocky hails supreme again!

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