Earlier this year there was much pre-release Oscar buzz for the boxing flick Southpaw. That film and its lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal were being mentioned as possible heavyweights on Academy Awards night, all sight unseen. Then the movie came out and despite a remarkable physique change for Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw was instantly forgettable. Now, comes the most unlikeliest of Oscar contenders in Creed. Resurrecting a franchise that has spawned nearly 40 years, writer/director Ryan Coogler (a Bay Area native) does a remarkably nimble job of sculpting a love-letter to the series and for long-time fans of Balboa.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the bastard son of deceased former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Plucked out of a juvenile detention center as a youth by the widow Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashād) and raised in luxury, Adonis still can’t shake the inner fire to fight, against anything and anybody it seems at first. When we first met the adult Adonis, he is preparing to battle in an unsanctioned bout south of the border for minimal money. This is a troubled young man who is fairly unlikable until he comes under the tutelage of his father’s former foe, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
After initial resistance Rocky decides to help the kid with some workout tips, this leads to pointers on the bag and next thing you know, Rocky is the Mickey character to Adonis. From this point the script takes on the same structure of the previous installments. We are treated to a brilliantly staged fight sequence at the midway point that should be studied in film schools for years. The final fight is also a marvelous sequence (though not as fluid as the first bout) and drew cheers and applauses from the crowd in my screening.
Creed has a lot of the loneliness and isolation that was depicted in the first two films (before the series got adrift in a hyper reality). It’s peculiar how the earlier movies fill in some of the questions left by this one. It is, I would imagine, not even possible to understand this film without having seen (at least) the first two, and yet, being familiar with them, Creed works on even more levels.
Michael B. Jordan is the real deal in terms of upcoming movie stars. His handsome features can barely contain the rage and arrogance of a legend’s forgotten son. His scenes with the beautiful Tessa Thompson are delicate and balanced nicely with the film’s more brutal passages. However, this is Stallone’s show and he takes the opportunity to turn in his greatest bit of screen acting since his inaugural appearance in the role back in 1976. Come Oscar night, I know which underdog I’ll be cheering for. All together now, ROCKY! ROCKY!
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson