Much like its titular character, the Rocky franchise has proven it can go the distance. Since the original oscar-winning film was released in 1976, we’ve had at least one new film every decade. Granted, some have been better than others, but the fact that the series has managed to adapt to the times is a comment to its longevity and success.
Through the years we’ve had dodgy fashion sense, synth-soundtracks, a talking robot – Happy Birthday Paulie – and even Cold War politics feature in the films which, regardless of their quality, act as nice little snapshots of their era.
The same can be said of Creed, the newest instalment in what is now considered the ‘Rocky legacy’, which manages to feel fresh and modern whilst mantaining the ethos of the original film.
This time around the focus is on Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed. Like his father, Adonis has some skill in the boxing ring, fighting secret matches in Mexico by night, and working an office job by day.
When he decides to pursue the sport full time, he travels to Philadelphia and approaches his fathers former adversary and friend, Rocky Balboa, and asks if he’d be willing to train him.
What initially sounds like a blatant cash grab to capatilise on the Rocky brand, turns out to be an ingenious way of continuing the story. Similar to the way in which Star Trek was successfully rebooted as a sequel and prequel at the same time, Creed brings the old and new together in an incredibly clever way.
All the elements of what makes Rocky so iconic, are all here. The music, the training montages and those famous steps all appear at some point, amongst a number of other in-jokes which will leave any fan of the franchise – myself included – over the moon.
But where Creed’s greatest strength lies, is in all the new that director and writer, Ryan Coogler, brings with him. The film is very much of ‘this time’, which is often played for laughs against the older Rocky, who doesn’t understand modern technology such as the Cloud. More than that though, it’s wonderful to see shots of female boxers training in the gym – something which has never been seen previously in a Rocky film.
Coogler adds a sleek visual style and technical ingenuity that’s been absent from the other films. He introduces us to fighters by bringing up their ‘stats’ on screen, and his energetic fight sequences have a ferocity that will leave you wincing.
His true moment of greatness, however, is a scene in which Adonis has his first fight since being trained by Rocky. The whole thing seems to take place in one continuous shot, as modern technologies allow the camera to dance around the ring with the fighters. We get closer to the action than ever before, feeling every punch that’s thrown and getting right up in the character’s faces.
It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking which serves the plot and adds to the whole cinematic experience. As much as I’m a fan of Stallone, who doesn’t get enough credit for his writing, this type of technical and visual prowess is something that he could never have achieved. With Ryan Coolger at the helm, he takes Creed and the Rocky legacy to a whole new level of filmmaking that goes beyond the tried and tested storytelling.
Despite featuring strong central performances from Michael B. Jordan – who not only looks like he could be Carl Weathers’ son, but also captures the persona of Apollo Creed to a tee – as well as Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson, Creed belongs first and foremost to Coolger.
For fans of the Rocky films, this won’t disappoint. It taps into that nostalgic element really well, to the point where I had tingles and almost impulsively jolted out of my seat, on hearing that infamous music from Bill Conti. Yet, what’s perhaps most exciting about Creed is the new direction in which Coolger seems to be taking the franchise. I look forward to round two.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com