Like its young protagonist, Creed’s intentions as a film are unclear. Is it Rocky’s swan song, a final farewell after 2006’s Rocky Balboa? Is it bequeathing the series to a new generation? Come the end, it turns out it’s both of those things, and a great film to boot.
Our young protagonist is Adonis Johnson, son of the late Apollo Creed. He is rescued from juvenile hall by his father’s widow, who brings Adonis up as her own. They live together in the house that Creed built, with a big C on the cast iron gate. Perhaps because of this ostentatious reminder, Adonis seems to have inherited his father’s desire to fight.
Or perhaps it’s genetic. Maybe it’s Michael B. Jordan’s performance, maybe it’s Ryan Coogler’s direction, but I was constantly unsure of Adonis’ motivations. Had he truly inherited Apollo’s pugnacious predilection? Is he trying to carve out his own legacy? Does he just really like punching? That’s not to say that Jordan’s performance is a bad one. He brings the same emotional honesty that we saw in Fruitvale Station, his previous collaboration with Coogler.
Surprisingly, though, Jordan is outshone by Sylvester Stallone. Despite the title, and the torch-passing theme, this really is Stallone’s film. He plays the cranky mentor shtick to perfection, and when issues of mortality arise, Stallone reveals some career-best acting chops.
Some of the credit for Stallone’s sterling work here has to go to director Ryan Coogler. As we saw with Fruitvale Station, Coogler has a deft hand with actor’s, eliciting natural, spontaneous-seeming performances. Which makes the uncertainty inherent in Jordan’s performance all the more puzzling.
That uncertainty could be intentional, of course. Come the climactic boxing match, Adonis channels all his rage, frustration and yes, uncertainty into his fight with Liverpudlian champion Ricky Conlan (I wonder if American’s needed subtitles for his accent?).
The fight is one of the best boxing matches I’ve seen in a film. This is why you go to the cinema. Watching that fight with a theatre full of strangers was a fantastic experience. We gasped. We flinched. At one point, I swear I was literally on the edge if my seat.
Creed is Rocky’s swan song. And it is passing the series on to a new generation. It is both of those things, and a great film to boot.