Before Creed, I was a Rocky virgin. I know, shocking. Somehow, I managed to avoid the movie equivalent of a beat-em-up game. And every one of its subsequent sequels. I did not expect much. I never once considered Stalone a “good actor”. That felt like reason enough to avoid the franchise. Well, before I get into a wee analysis of Creed, the latest instalment in the series – arguably a new franchise if they keep it up – let it just be said that my judgement of these films based on my opinion of Stalone* was misguided, and I’ve since set myself up to watch the previous five films. We’ll call it film history. (*If Creed is anything to go by, he can act; unfortunately, I’ve also seen The Expendables, which seemed to come with a No Acting Required caveat, so long as you had the forearms for the job.)
Creed presents us with a new character: Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed. (Presumably from a previous movie.) The new Creed is smart, working in a professional environment, leading a good life. And he gives it up to box, looking to Rocky to be his coach. I was glad to see that every other character in the movie shared my sentiments on this career change – that it was stupid and arrogant. Rocky is old. Stallone slouches and carries himself slowly. As we begin to get to know Creed in his new life, we’re given a few glimpses into Rocky’s life, now – who’s dead, what happened with his son, what he’s been up to, the reputation he has in his town. Whether it was meant to tell new viewers some important info, or simply pander to the existing fans, it served to build the character of Rocky into something beyond a guy who seems to struggle talking in clear sentences, and who best communications with his fists. He’s a man adapting to modern life, and struggles through a number of emotional scenes that life in the ring couldn’t prepare him for. We’re given the impression that this man was able to face anything in the ring. He had all the control there. But outside the ring, when people get sick or leave, he’s powerless, and it shows on his face how difficult life can be when you’re exactly like everyone else.
Despite his frankly absurd decision to enter the ring, Adonis is a believable character. He repeats old mistakes out of the frustrations of a difficult childhood in the system, and must take on his journey towards being a Creed in the public eye.
At the same time, we’re given some of the most engaging shots in cinema these past few months, within the ring. The lights go down. The camera doesn’t break momentum. Creed shares blows with his opponents. We’re in the ring with him, all that tension, all that focus, all that pain. The audience is drowned out. On-screen they shout mute in the dark; in the theatre, they sit on the edge of their seats, clutching their hands together, refusing to take their eyes off the screen.
And then we’re thrust back into the life of Adonis and Rocky, with a small collection of other characters around them, each with their own challenges to face, difficulties to overcome, weaknesses and desires. Creed isn’t just a boxing movie. It manages a host of characters in the same way any other drama would. It creates realism in this absurd world where people expect a man like Rocky to get back in the ring – even as a trainer – at a moment’s notice. But he’s old, and we’re told that over and over again.
This is an old story, with new heroes, and it’s told as gracefully as can be, while punches are thrown on-screen and blood splatters to the ground.