Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Sport
Director: Ryan Coogler
Music: Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
Michael B. Jordan
Populist action movie-stars have no fluke with Oscar glory, that is a truism (sorry Schwarzenegger, Willis, Statham, Diesel,“The Rock” Johnson and others of that ilk) saving Jackie Chan’s Honorary Award for his unabated career spanning over half-a-century and still counting, the closest call to win a competitive Oscar is Sylvester Stallone, whose underdog boxing tale ROCKY (1976) fortunately arrives in the inchoate stage of his métier, before he would establish himself as an action practitioner, and a rather iconic one. Stallone received 2 Oscar nominations for ROCKY, one for acting and another for writing the screenplay, and came home empty-handed, but don’t be sorry for him, ROCKY scooped the biggest award that night.
So when CREED hailed Stallone’s triumphant return last year as Rocky Balboa (his sixth film in that role) into the Oscar fray, it seemed finally Stallone would get that belated recognition, although at the age of 69, he plays the second fiddle for the first time in the franchise which has been consistently become his gravy train for nearly four decades. The bone was thrown, but the laurels didn’t come ultimately, nostalgia fails to transform into votes, since after all, it is a too well-concocted performance aiming to canonize Rocky’s legacy at the expense of a rounded exploration of a beloved character.
In CREED, Rocky Balboa has retired from boxing and opened an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, survives his wife Adrian and his loyal partner Paulie. When Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, the former heavyweight champion featured heavily in the previous ROCKY series, comes at his doorstep to plead him to become his trainer, Rocky declines at first, but changes his mind afterwards and a garden-variety father-and-son bond starts to shape up, intermittently saddled with life-threatening cancer, personal clichés – Adonis is bound to have a falling out with his new girlfriend Bianca (Thompson, a Rihanna dead ringer and entrains a scrumptious vibe with Jordan in a default role), a singer-songwriter who is going to be deaf, all to anticipate Adonis’ hard-earned honor in his 12-bouts with a troubled British champion Ricky Conlan (Bellew).
That’s it, CREED adheres to the boxing genre’s time-honored formula step by step, without ever trying to go out of the left field, and plays up the schmaltz card on Rocky’s avuncular benevolence, which doesn’t entirely looks suspicious thanks to Stallone and Jordan’s unaffected interactions. We know Adonis needs Rocky more than Rocky needs him in the first place, Rocky has a tranquil life, a stable income, well-respected in his community, loneliness may encroach him through time, but frankly speaking, he doesn’t need Adonis to rekindle his life, because getting old isn’t equivalent to misery, his decision to quietly accept his health condition is also well justified with dignity and sensibility, Rocky is fine without Adonis, but not otherwise. However, in order to make up a cutesy mutually dependent rapport between them, the script goes out on a limb to build it on its spindly material, it makes Adonis the one who convinces Rocky to accept chemotherapy (yeah, he doesn’t want Rocky die so soon for an obvious reason!), suddenly, Adonis becomes a surrogate son to the bereft Rocky, how? All we see is their routine training, all on chummy terms, but that doesn’t make them family. The intention is good, but talk the talk, walk the walk.
For all that, CREED, director Ryan Coogler’s follow-up after his breakthrough indie FRUITVILLE STATION (2013), which also stars Jordan, is not at all an awful experience, it boosts Coogler’s competence behind the camera and especially during the money shots – the boxing set pieces, where camera sticks closely to the players and swerves fluidly inside the boxing ring with outstanding choreography, no wonder Coogler has been enlisted to make Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER (2018), and brings Jordan on board too, as the arch-enemy of T’Challa, Erik Killmonger, take that Chadwick Boseman!
Jordan takes it on himself to prepare the role of Adonis with full physique overhaul and stands out as a natural thespian who can produce organic screen magnetism, presently, if we could all pretend that the remake of FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) has never happened, he seems to be the most promising successor of Denzel Washington (yes, not Will Smith), but who knows, the reviewer once had high hopes for Derek Luke and Taye Diggs, where are they now?