Creed: Old Story, New Hero

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 poster

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.

sylvester stalone as rocky
Sylvester Stalone as Rocky

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.

michael b jordan and tessa thompson
Michael B Jordan as Adonis Creed, and Tessa Thompson as Bianca

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.

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Room: How to Live in the World

“It’s a small world.” It’s a cliché made real in Room, in which Joy and Jack live in the smallest space imaginable for two people. Fit with just one bed, one wardrobe, a kitchen, a toilet and a bath, Room is their home and their world. Skylight gives them light. TV is full of imaginary people. There is only Joy, Jack, and Old Nick; there is only terror and innocence. (And, of course, spoilers.)

room poster

Room presents us with two ways of living in the world. One way is filled with terror, the other with innocence; terror is a post-innocence way of seeing things, when innocence has been stolen. For Joy, Room is a thing to survive. Food is supplied by Old Nick, when it suits him and what he can afford. Burning food means eating burnt food – nothing can be wasted. There is little space – though clever camera work makes Room look bigger – and twice as many people in Room than there was to begin with. Introducing Jack.

He’s five. Joy has been locked up in Room for seven years. The maths is simple, and the conclusion obvious and horrible: he was born in Room, and Old Nick is the only person to ever “visit”. But for Jack, Room is his whole world. Everything he knows is within the four walls and ceiling. His Ma’s terror fills his head with lies and ignorance. He can only see the best in his situation. While Old Nick rapes Joy, he supplies Jack with birthday presents.

Brie Larson and Joan Allen
Brie Larson as Joy (Ma), and Joan Allen as Nancy (Grandma)

When we leave Room – when Joy and Jack escape – we can conceivably expect things to change. Joy remains afraid. She struggles with her sanity and her mental health. She needs her family, and she needs Jack to adapt; despite this, she pushes people away – a consequence of her difficulty to adapt to life outside of Room, of seeing how people she knew as a teenager changed as they grew up and went on with their lives, children, careers, marriages.

Jacob Tremblay as Jack
Jacob Tremblay as Jack

Jack on the other hand, faces fear for the first time. Jack has to find a way to understand the size of the world – up until his fifth birthday, Room was the entire size of his universe. As well as adjusting to bigger rooms, natural light, and the threat of infection from germs he’d never faced before (not that he worries about the germs), Jack needs to adjust to his grandparents (the only other people he knows aside from his Ma) and to the concept of there being more people in the world than he’s ever met.

Room gives us a fresh look at the world from the perspectives of these two characters, and all the ways in which experiencing the world for the first time can lead to happiness and fulfilment against the odds.