“An absolute knockout” Creed review

CREED (UK Cert  12a)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Music: Ludwig Göransson

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson


By Rob Stoakes

The sports genre of films is widely mocked for being formulaic. Team of scrappy underdogs, 2, 3, surly disgraced trainer, 3, 4, it’s so bad that even the parodies are in their own sub-genre. But other sports films are downright experimental next to movies about boxing. Quick quiz, which…

… hold on,  this is exactly how I started my Southpaw review.

And why not? Every boxing drama is exactly the same. Scrappy underdog, personal tragedy, very mean champion, old disrespected has-been trains underdog, underdog wins the title, you could set this entire genre to a disco beat. Hell, the granddaddy of them all, Rocky, stands out just by having him lose at the end. They’re as repetitive as a Hulk Hogan branded cardboard box factory line.

So with a genre so stuck in its own formula, Creed decides to take the genre in the only way you really can once it’s so stuck into a formula; into metanarrative territory. The story of the film is indeed about the son of Apollo Creed hunting Rocky down so he can be trained to make it on his own, but the story is also reflecting the film itself. This upstart Michael B Jordan kid and this unknown Ryan Googler fellow using the name of Rocky and Sylvester Stallone himself to create a film that isn’t just Rocky VII, but a new story in its own right, without abandoning what made the series great.


Michael B. Jordan. Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.

Now, being the arty farty film snob that I am, all of this metanarrative stuff makes me stroke my beard in excitement, but the script is never bogged down by the metanarrative or makes it too obvious. The dialogue is sharp and clever, populated by interesting characters, and the story functions at once as the beginning for Adonis Creed and the end of Rocky Balboa, both in satisfying ways. Especially interesting is that the focus of the film is on the training, the stuff that Rocky was always keen to skip over with a montage. The film doesn’t need to invent a tragedy for Creed to be beset by because the boxing is difficult enough, and you feel how hard that life is and the dedication that is required to even attempt it.

The parallels between Creed and Tessa Thompson’s progressively deaf Bianca are made very clear; you do something because you love it, even if Creed has in a way doomed himself to a young death of brain damage by attempting it. The alternative is to be Rocky; quit, then watch everything you love leave you. The film’s message is classic Rocky, asking if it is better to destroy yourself doing something you love while you can, or living on for a comfort that may not last. Although the film knows what answer it wants its audience to have, it doesn’t shy from the consequences either, and does what Southpaw couldn’t; making a boxing film with depth.

Those themes are quite heavy, and it’d be difficult to carry them across without excellent performances. However, I can safely say that the Oscars snubbed everyone but Stallone here, because Jordan and Thompson are brilliant in their roles. Jordan has a definite hard edge and determination that is difficult to not identify with, and Thompson manages to bring a lot of wit and charm to the character of Bianca. At least Stallone wasn’t a bad choice by the Oscars, having never appeared more vulnerable in his entire career. This is some of the best acting of his career, and he should be acknowledged for it; it’s just that Jordan and Thompson deserve that much credit too.

Unfortunately, Creed’s stellar script and acting is not supported by the ho-hum direction. It’s not directly badly by any stretch; the fight scenes are impressively choreographed and the way they hold off on playing the Rocky theme until right when its needed shows a rare restraint, but Coogler seems better in the story and acting departments of directing than making his films visually interesting. He’s the margherita pizza of boxing directors…

… that sounds familiar again.

To conclude, Creed is sort of like most boxers. Big, harsh and not especially attractive, but with a level of talent one must admire and a knockout punch. Definitely not one to miss.

Category Scoring out of 5 :star:
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Acting/Vocal Performance :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Special Effects/Cinematography :star: :star: 1/2
Soundtrack :star: :star: :star:
Costume/Design :star: :star: 1/2
Script/Dialogue :star: :star: :star: :star:
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