“If he dies? He dies!” Those were words that, to this day, I find strangely haunting. I guess it’s probably because I heard them at an age where I could make sense of heroes, villains, life and death but couldn’t comprehend political underpinnings in Rocky IV.
This was also, roughly, the last time I cared about a Rocky movie.
There is a lot to like about Rocky IV, indeed it remained the highest grossing sports movie for over 20 years, but it comes with some of the same problems that made Rocky III questionable and Rocky V question whether there is a god.
To put it simply; Rocky Balboa was a simple character that my younger, more simple self, found it simple to understand. Yet these later films strayed too far from the humble, down to earth, character that made Rocky Balboa loveable in the first place.
Rocky from the first film would never have wanted to get involved with staged fights and Hollywood and street brawls and a fucking robot servant thing; at least not without a severe change of character that was never portrayed in the later Rocky Films.
Creed is a breath of fresh air in this respect because it makes Rocky humble and destructible again. It’s for this reason that I enjoyed the film more than I thought I would.
It didn’t start that way though with the opening line going something like “Adonis has been fighting again”. Adonis? Really? Out of all the characters in Greek Mythology you choose Adonis? It doesn’t really have the same ring as Apollo Creed and the idea of a god of endless beauty doesn’t really work when he’s stopping fists with his face.
Still, I guess it’s better than Apollo’s actual sons in Greek mythology. I’m not sure that Lamus would have worked but is it better or worse than Anius? Anius “The Hole” Creed?
Once I’d stopped gritting my teeth I was drawn in to the storyline. Adonis… #sigh#… Adonis is the son of Apollo Creed and an anonymous Mrs Johnson with whom Apollo had an affair with. Apollo died shortly after conception (spoiler alert for the 1983 Rocky IV film!) and we never find out what happens to Mrs Johnson but we know that Adonis spends time in a juvenile detention facility before being fostered by Mary Anne Creed; Apollo’s widow.
Adonis wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a boxer but wants to make a name for himself. Unlike Apollo’s always sunny attitude, Adonis comes complete with trust issues, anger management issues and an abandonment complex which actually sets him aside from his father more than he realises. These issues are acted out with a deft subtlety that makes Michael B. Jordan’s character not only one of fascination but also one that is, like Rocky, surprisingly easy to root for: “Go on Adon… err…. Mr Creed”.
Unfortunately there is not enough screen time for any particular resolution to Adonis’ insecurities so by the end of the film we see the exact same person only this time he is boxing on the world stage.
There is even less time to make his transformation from a home schooled, aggressive boxer, into a world class fighter slugging it out with the number 1, pound for pound, boxer in the world. Taking a step back and finishing the film with him being centre stage against the number 1 would have been enough, perhaps in a classic freeze frame of both fighters going in for a punch in classic Rocky nostalgia.
In fact, the ending was the least satisfying aspect of the film being just another boxing match with no real surprises. However; Adonis undertakes some unlicensed boxing midway through the film in an innocuous but technically amazing way.
Now, I love my long, unedited, continuous shots but the one in Creed is so good that by the time I realised it was a continuous shot it was almost over. The way in which the punches come in and around the camera as it circles around the fighters is wizardry that even Harry Potter would be impressed by.
Equally as impressive is Sylvester Stallone who delivers a truly earnest and heartfelt performance as the hero that time has passed by. Everyone he loved is gone, he’s too old to box and doesn’t have the inclination to train anyone. He is, by his own admission a relic.
It’s perhaps weird to think of Sly as an excellent actor but touching scenes as him poignantly reading to a newspaper to the graves of his dead wife and best friend prove that he unquestionably has it in him.
Strangely then; considering that Balboa himself barely throws a single punch, Creed is one of the best Rocky films ever made. That should ring alarm bells for people who don’t love the franchise and bells of joy for those who do because Creed is to Rocky what Jurassic World is to Jurassic Park and what The Force Awakens is to A New Hope by taking what made the originals great, throwing in a bit of nostalgia then gracefully and respectfully modernising it; even if it does, criminally, leave out that oh-so evocative music.
The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:
+ A sly performance from Stallone
+ Continuous take fight scene
+ One of the best Rocky films
– Limited character development
– Missing musical score
– Final fight is underwhelming