Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station is one of the most profound and affecting dramas this side of the 21st century, and it came as something of a surprise to see the young filmmaker enter into the Rocky franchise, with his sophomore endeavour Creed. Though expanding significantly, he remains true to his sensibilities as a director, and yet still manages to be affectionately faithful to the tone and the essence of the series he is inhabiting, doing to Rocky what The Force Awakens has done to Star Wars.
Michael B. Jordan takes on the role of the eponymous protagonist, the son of Apollo Creed – a former rival to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Wanting to forge a career in boxing himself, and move away from the family name that suffocates him, he moves to Philadelphia to convince his father’s old foe to be his trainer. Though hesitant at first, eventually Rocky agrees – and a fight against champion ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) is on the cards – but beforehand, our hero must win a battle a little closer to home, hoping to win over the heart of his neighbour, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
First and foremost, Jordan turns in a hugely nuanced, confident display as Adonis Johnson (AKA Creed) – which helps matters significantly given how much of an intense character study this is. It helps also to have real life boxers take on supporting roles, adding a sense of authenticity to proceedings, as so often in boxing movies we are taken out of the narrative when struggling to abide by the actors performance, perhaps unable to grasp the subtleties of the sportsmen, from the stance to the physicality. Thompson ensures we have a full set, blessed with a well-crafted role that is by no means a mere love interest to our hero, while Stallone turns in the best performance of, well, perhaps ever, adding so much fragility and vulnerability to the role, which is significant, given he’s back embodying a role that has always been the epitome of courage and strength, and represented masculinity.
Coogler is the real star, however, managing to make a film steeped in realism, thriving in the more naturalistic elements – and yet the line between fiction and reality is so blurry, as we believe in these characters, despite the fact they’re living in a world steeped in cinematic tradition, discussing fights of old, and even watching them on YouTube between Rocky and Apollo – fights we’ve seen before, and are now to believe genuinely took place.
Creed is affecting and intimate; it’s everything you hoped Coogler would bring to the table, and more. If he can bring anywhere near the same level of intimacy and profundity to Black Panther – his next feature, and first foray into the Marvel Universe – it could honestly end up being the studio’s best yet. And that’s saying something.