Review: Ryan Coogler's 'Creed' is Early Contender for Best of the Year
by Jeremy Kirk
November 25, 2015
Ryan Coogler's Creed is the best film of the year. That may come as a shock for some of you especially if you're among those old enough to remember many of the hokier directions the Rocky series took. After six films and several ups and downs, it didn't seem reasonable to go back to the Balboa well once again. Instead, it was time to revitalize the series for a newer, younger audience. I know what several of you think of the word "reboot," but, when it works – and those exceptions are few and far between – there's no denying it. Everything in Creed works perfectly, and the movie not only spins off from the Rocky series in the most organic and best way possible, it stands on its own as a flawlessly realized work of cinema.
It was high time another filmmaker got a crack at the story, anyway. Sylvester Stallone, returning here only to reprise his role of the Philadelphia pugilist, pretty much put the stamp on Rocky's boxing career with 2006's Rocky Balboa. Stallone steps aside from writing and directing duties to give Ryan Coogler, the filmmaker who floored audiences in 2013 with the drama Fruitvale Station, a shot. To put it succinctly, Coogler absolutely nails it.
From his previous film Coogler brings along Michael B. Jordan to star as Adonis Johnson. Early in his life Adonis (Alex Henderson in the early scenes) is an orphan whose mother has just died and who has no knowledge of his father's identity. Angry at his place in life and the world that put him there, Adonis is constantly fighting other kids, and he's good at it, too, a little natural talent he inherited from someone. You get the impression this child has spent most of his life with his fists clenched.
Two bits of magic occur in an early scene in Creed. Adonis is introduced to Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad taking over the role from Rocky III and IV's Sylvia Meals). Mary Anne is the widow of Apollo Creed, former heavyweight boxing champion and widely regarded in this world as the best prize fighter of all time. Yeah, even Rocky. Mary Anne tells Adonis, fist still clenched, that he is the illegitimate son of Apollo and that she is going to take the child in and raise him properly. Adonis' fist loosens, the mean glare he's giving her softens, as well, and the second bit of magic occurs. You realize early on that this film is going to be anything but another, run-of-the-mill reboot. You realize the Rocky franchise – now the Creed franchise, I guess – is in the hands of a filmmaker and one with some amazing talent.
There is a definite paint-by-numbers structure that could have been followed, and it would have probably been the Rocky franchise reboot we were all expecting. Lord knows the original Rocky spawned enough rip-offs to reboot the series ten times over, and it isn't as if the sequels strayed too far from that mark either. Creed doesn't completely eschew these trademarks that kept the Rocky movies popular enough to span across four decades. Rather, what Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington understand is what made those trademarks last for such a long time. The training montages, brutal bouts, even heartwarming love story are all familiar territory that Coogler and Covington revisit, but all of those elements are pulled off with a phenomenal amount of emotion, grace, and surprise. The filmmakers' ability to play with the rules of this world without ever breaking them is one of Creed's biggest strengths. Don't worry. There are plenty of montages, each more enthralling than the previous. And the crescendos. My God, the crescendos!
Coogler and Covington match the Stallone-written screenplays with equally colorful characters. Sure, their boxing antagonist for Adonis, the Irish Ricky Conlan, played by Tony Bellew, isn't as glaringly eccentric as Clubber Lange or Ivan Drago. This is just one of many indications that the story told in Creed is more down-to-earth than many of the Rocky sequels that came before it. That isn't stopping the film from being both a love letter to the entire Rocky series as well as a superb launching point for this new Cinderella-story protagonist.
What Creed benefits from the most is having Coogler directing. Nearly every scene plays out against expectation. Aided by cinematographer Maryse Alberti, Coogler's camera tracks along with his subjects for long stretches of time, one particular bout in the ring completely unfolding in one, continuous shot. It's such a simple idea that you can't believe no filmmaker has pulled it off before, but Coogler's execution of the whole scene tells us it will never be done quite as well ever again. The same goes for his handling throughout the rest of the film, as well. The confidence in his image is felt in every scene, every shot with which the director presents. It's not always the flashiest visual Coogler is giving us, but every time it's the best.
Coogler's confidence bleeds into the performances of the actors he's directing, as well. His performance in Fruitvale Station put Michael B. Jordan on the map, but the young actor has continuously impressed in nearly every role he takes. As Adonis, Jordan shows a broader range. More importantly he shows a broad potential for range, but he is able to keep the character focused and naturalistic at all times. He projects a vulnerability yet forces a presence throughout the film that rightfully calls to mind the flamboyance and charisma Carl Weathers previously brought to Apollo Creed. It's more than mimicry or even homages in the performance. It's a natural lineage in Jordan's character. He looks like Weathers at times, but, as the subtext of the screenplay relays, he is his own man. Jordan projects clear emotion when the time arises, and it's just one aspect of a stunning and varied performance.
Elsewhere in the cast, Coogler's handling of his actors is as sophisticated as the rest of his film. Key among these is with Stallone, giving here his first legitimately solid performance in decades. This time around, Rocky is retired from his battles in the ring, but his role doesn't begin and end as Adonis' veteran trainer. He fills the paternal hole left in Adonis since birth, and, with Coogler directing him, Stallone gives a performance that is more honest and heart wrenching than anything he's given us probably since 1976.
Since then, the Rocky series has gone through some rough patches, turning things upward nearly 10 years ago with Rocky Balboa. That course correction Stallone began for the franchise reaches its full potential with Ryan Coogler's Creed, easily an early contender for best film of the year and, strike me down, film fans, a more complete, better told, and more perfectly executed film than the original. Those are, pardon the pun, fighting words, but not without the evidence to back them up.
It's due to Coogler's clear fondness for this series with which he has grown up that he has been able to reverse engineer an even better version of the original. A fine, film fan has aged to be one of the finest filmmakers working today, and those Rocky fans out there were just waiting for one of their own to take over in the finest fashion. Creed is that evidence, and whether the man behind its success continues on with this series or something completely different, you can be certain it'll be another game-changer. With Creed, Ryan Coogler has definitely made his presence felt in the film industry.
Reader Feedback - 30 Comments
Nice. Really looking forward to watching this one. Grew up watching the Rocky series. Glad to see it's still going strong.
TK on Nov 25, 2015
Thanks Kirk. // I kind of wrote this off when it was first announced, and I am sure many others did too, but once Coogler was attached it immediately blipped on my RADAR. It is always nice when things come together so perfectly.
DAVIDPD on Nov 25, 2015
Damn, that's some real glowing review you got there, man. Definitely gonna have to check this thing out.
John Doe on Nov 25, 2015
There is no way you were not paid for this review. Gimme a break.
Joshua on Nov 25, 2015
Haha yeah you'd think so but the movie is actually really good. One of my faves from this year for sure.
TK on Nov 26, 2015
I can't for your glowing, brilliant review of captain America 13 or iron man 9.
Joshua on Nov 26, 2015
I guess each to their own but couldn't stand any of the Iron Man sequels. Apart from the beginning stories of that universe and off course Winter Soldier all of the Marvel movies haven't been that great.
TK on Nov 26, 2015
But it's a true review thought. Went to watch it yesterday. 10/10 gonna watch it at least three more times
Luffy1045 on Nov 26, 2015
Yea, I was thinking the same thing, Joshua....like...give me a heavy break! Seems people like this kind of stuff, but what I've read, even from critics that liked it, was that's it's pretty corny. Not to say maudlin and sentimental. Not my cup of tea, for sure. I hated the first film back in 1976 and they only got worse and worse in my opinion. To the point of embarrassment. But best picture of the year. Please, what has the world, culture and taste come to? I'm going to go and hide now because for the past almost 40 years, those that love Rocky absolutely hate me and get very, very angry because I don't fall for this tripe...lol....poor sods...
Bo on Nov 26, 2015
Good film, but we all know The Force Awakens is going to win every possible award there is.
Ry on Nov 28, 2015
The world is still not ready to give science fiction the big awards. A shoe-in for some technical achievements though.
DAVIDPD on Nov 28, 2015
Agreed, but these days you never know.
Bo on Nov 28, 2015
You think? My, my, Ry. Who knows? However, it's another one I shall not be viewing...maybe on cable in a year or so just to see what the fuss it about. Know what I mean? Hope you like it. Cheers!
Bo on Nov 28, 2015
@disqus_yyq0lnHEEt:disqus....I would really recommend you give it a watch. I personally loved it...but I'm not going to shove it down your throat. If you do get a chance to see it.... I would really love to hear your opinion on it.
Duane on Nov 28, 2015
Well, thanks Duane. I'm glad you liked it and thanks for your wanting to hear my opinion if I see it. It's highly unlikely I will watch this movie, not until it comes around on cable...and even then. These kinds of movies just are not my cup of tea, Duane. Thanks for your thoughts and heartfelt recommendation. I appreciate that. Peace.
Bo on Nov 28, 2015
@disqus_yyq0lnHEEt:disqus Definitely welcome to your opinion. The thing I appreciated about this review is that it is respecting the craft of the film. You may not like the story and that's cool, gauging a movie on its performances, soundtrack, cinematography and more is where this move does stand out. I'm not saying you have to see it, and you don't seem to enjoy the escapism that Rocky movies provide, but the rant or rage you seem to show here seems unwarrented or irrational
Tyler Richard on Nov 30, 2015
Damn it, Tyler. While reading your post/response to my feelings and opinions of movies such as this I thought, well here's an intelligent and well articulated comment, even though at the same time I was thinking, well, sure, you can get the best photographer in the world with the best lighting grip alongside him shooting a pile of dogshit and it would for sure be well crafted and lit and all that, but in the end it'd still be a photograph of a pile of dogshit...lol... Then you went and ruined and invalidated your whole stated ideas with the bit about 'rant or rage you seem to show here seem unwarranted or irrational. Talk about an irrational view! Look, I think it's funny. Unwarranted? An opinion? Just who decides when and if one might be warranted or not? You? Of course, you jest. Or same for irrational? I stand by my original post and suppose for those that like these corny, maudlin, sentimental films that keep presenting the big lie to our culture and fortify the 'curtain of pretense' that hides the truth of life and reality I would seem to be irrational. The fact that people like this tripe is very, very irrational to me, now that you use that word. And scary. Sleepwalking robots in a hypnotic trance induced in their early childhood and they've never snapped out of it and drink the kool-aid of maudlin sentimentality falseness out of fear of waking up and growing up and becoming the real individual self that they are. It saddens me. By the way, I'll accept rant...but rage? Nah, sorry Tyler...no anger here...just heavy, heavy pity for the sleeping masses! Take care and peace.
Bo on Dec 1, 2015
@disqus_yyq0lnHEEt:disqus I will give you that. "rage" was probably the wrong word. I've gone through enough rough stuff and darkness in life, so I enjoy the escapism of unrealistic positivity. I would say to each our own, and that's what I love about movies and music. It is hard to say anything is truly "bad" as it is all about the perspective we take when viewing an engaging them. Take care and enjoy the ones you do. 🙂
Tyler Richard on Dec 2, 2015
Well, Tyler, I really like this reply. Very well articulated and I understand. I have never quite heard it put in such a way as 'enjoying the escapism of unrealistic positivity'. Excellent! I'm glad it works for you. For me, however, it just has the opposite effect. I become depressed with it being unrealistic and escapist. It just doesn't help me to escape, perhaps because I simply do not want to. I'm here, it is what it is, and to pretend otherwise is delusion. Impossible for me to embrace delusion. I like my films straight up. I just watched the Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace film again last night. The Drop. It is just an amazing film with great, great acting. Beautiful and understated and subtle acting. From all the actors, even those with secondary/supporting roles. I know, its rough, gritty stuff and most likely isn't for you and I understand and again respect and appreciate your sharing of why you enjoy these kinds of escapist films. Okay by me and thanks for the nice statement to enjoy the ones I do. I like that and wish the same for you. Peace.
Bo on Dec 2, 2015
I also loved The Drop.
Tyler Richard on Dec 4, 2015
Wow! That's excellent, Tyler. From enjoying the escapism of unrealistic positivity to loving the dark, dark nature of a film like The Drop is impressive. Well, The Drop is a very, very good film. I like the short story title, Animal Rescue much better and wonder why they changed it. The writer of the short story, Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River, wrote the screenplay for The Drop. So I wonder if perhaps the studio or the producers or money men thought The Drop would be better for marketing purposes. Which is weird thinking, but that's part of the business of show biz. Animal Rescue is potent for not only the rescuing of the puppy, but that the two main characters, in finding one another, rescue each other too. Anyway, glad you loved it because I sure continue to with each viewing.
Bo on Dec 4, 2015
Animal Rescue is an appropriate title. I can see how 'The Drop' is more marketable and creates fewer expectations in the movie. The initial title was quite suitable and played off no only on the rescue of the dog, but also how the dog may have helped rescue Bob from himself and finally making his final killing and then stating "he was going to hurt our dog". Great movie, not for everybody but definitely a character driven drama. Great chatting with you and thank you for the compliment, I truly do try to walk into every movie and attempt to perceive it for what it is. Be it Piranha 3DD which is terrible film making at its finest, to films like the drop or Gus Van Sant's Gerry. Take care Bo.
Tyler Richard on Dec 6, 2015
Well said. It was great chatting with you too, Tyler. Thank you as I shall take care. You too.
Bo on Dec 7, 2015
I think is a big old bucket of boxers spit that the UK don't get this until January. Shitty decisions like this, especially for well loved brands like Rocky, just fuel piracy. Let's be honest, if you were a massive Rocky fan and you had to wait 2 months for this film but you could get your hands on a DVD quality version and watch it now, at home on your big arsed TV with your surround sound, would you seriously not download it?
Eggyweggs on Nov 26, 2015
INSTANT FAV!!! Creed is most definitely one of the best films this year, x I'm going to see it again tomorrow! I was not only watching the story but Ryan Coogler's craft which is impeccable. The final minutes had me so amped that I actually jumped up when Michael threw that last punch lol.
III on Nov 27, 2015
I fully endorse this review 🙂
Duane on Nov 28, 2015
Same thing happened at the cinema I was in everyone went up at the end lol. There were kids shadow boxing in the Cinema lobby after the film.
TK on Nov 29, 2015
A GOOD film will do that!
III on Nov 29, 2015
Coogler is the man. Jordan is phenomenal. Phylicia Rashad gives a masterclass in acting in the minimal screen time she's given.....and Stallone DESERVES a supporting nom for this.
Duane on Nov 28, 2015
Great film! Was skeptical going and smiled while going out. Coogler did a tremendous job and Stallone was very good! That long continuous shot in the ring was seamless and an eye-opener. Bravo to all involved in resurrecting this franchise, which was dead in the water.
deerosa on Nov 30, 2015
Sorry, no commenting is allowed at this time.