Friday, November 27, 2015

[Review] Creed

In Hollywood where remakes, reboots, and sequels run amok, the sound of "Rocky spin-off" probably wasn't a pleasant bell to most ears. But with Ryan Coogler at the helm (Director of Fruitvale Station), the rising Michael B. Jordan starring in the ring, and Sylvester Stallone himself reprising his role of Rocky, I think a lot of people are rooting for Creed to be good. And thankfully, it's better than good.

The film revolves Apollo Creed's out-of-wedlock son Adonis aka Donnie (Jordan). During his younger days, he navigated between foster homes and juvenile detention--always getting into fights. He's then adopted by Apollo Creed's widowed wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Flash-forward to the present, and Donnie isn't the hard luck down-and-out character that is usually expected. In fact, he has a steady company job, he lives in a giant luxurious mansion, and he participates in low-level amateur boxing matches, destroying the competition without breaking a sweat.

Everyone around Donnie attempts to push him away from the boxing life, because you know--his father died in the ring. But it's in Creed's blood, and pretty soon he quits his job in order to pursue a full-time professional boxing career. That's when he seeks out Rocky (Stallone). After Donnie and Rocky's almost mythological introduction to each other, Rocky reluctantly agrees to train the kid. Donnie also meets a love interest named Bianca, played by a sultry by Tessa Thompson.

Ryan Coogler directs this film with so much flair, grit, and passion, while prolific cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, ESPN's "30 for 30") renders everything with such beauty and charisma. Coogler incorporates the culture of Philly, and shoots it as is (much like he did with the Bay Area in Fruitvale Station). The film isn't just insanely watchable, but you also might want to give it a fist bump and a hug. It's no secret that so many boxing films have a familiar formula, but when that formula is done well, they can be really great, and Creed is up there with the best of company. There's just something about montages of someone training and throwing punches, backed by a musical score of triumphant horns that gets you pumped up.

The narrative is nicely paced and it's constructed with a number of excellent and memorable scenes. The boxing matches appear authentic, and there's a tremendous centerpiece match that occurs all in one take, and it looks fantastic. Donnie and Rocky's relationship isn't only charming, but it's also deeply rooted and heartfelt. There are plenty of solid exchanges between the two, but a couple of the most poignant ones are real standouts. I won't consider this aspect as a spoiler because it's shown in the trailers--but yes, Rocky gets sick with a life-threatening disease, and it's a major gut punch. In one of the most moving scenes of the year, Donnie shows up to Rocky's first chemotherapy appointment, and Rocky continues to guide Donnie while he shadowboxes--fighting metaphors abound.

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone both give fantastic performances. Aside from being in stellar physical shape, Michael B. Jordan propels a wide range of emotion (which is no surprise given his impressive performance in Fruitvale Station), and he's just a compelling screen presence. Stallone is at his must vulnerable here, and it's a wonderfully warm performance--yet he still maintains the spunky spirit of Rocky, and the film itself does the same. Creed is nostalgic and ode-full, yet contemporary--carving out its own path. Some boxing experts might scoff at Donnie's quick rise to a title shot, but Rocky has always been an underdog story, and Creed is taking the torch.

* 10/10 *

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