The ‘Boxing Genre’, which it could be argued is defined by the components of the legendary Rocky franchise has usually attracted a stereotypically male audience. However, after seeing Antoine Fuqua’s spectacular Southpaw in 2015 my own interest in these films was generated, and I was keen to see if Creed could live up to the hype of its predecessors and if I really needed to be a Rocky fan to enjoy it?
In the first scenes, we are introduced to the movie’s main protagonist, juvenile delinquent Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnson (played by Michael B. Jordan) who is the illegitimate love child of Rocky Balboa’s former arch rival and heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. After seeing his first fight in a youth detention centre (a nod to him having ‘boxing in his blood’) we are introduced to the matriarch of the film, Mary Anne Creed (Apollo’s wife), who offers to take him in and inevitably turns his life around.
The film then fast forwards to an older Donnie who appears to be involved in some form of ‘underground boxing’ in Mexico followed by a straight cut to a contrasting scene of Donnie ‘suited and booted’ in a corporate office job. In an effort to potentially reconnect to his roots he quits his job, much to Mary Anne’s dismay, and decides to embark on his quest to become a professional boxer. But after being turned down by his local gym, Donnie is at a loss and so decides to leave his home city of Los Angeles and track down an old ally of his Father’s in Philadelphia…
Once in ‘Philly’, the film instantly starts to gain pace, with lots of familiar shots of the city reminiscent of the previous Rocky movies, edited alongside an invigorating rap soundtrack to create the suspense of the world Donnie is about to enter. This build up paves the way for the inevitable scene that everyone has been waiting for… the first appearance of Sylvester Stallone aka Mr Rocky Balboa.
A shadow of his former self, Rocky appears to be quite content in running his restaurant Adrian’s (named after his late wife) and appears to have no interest in re-entering the world of boxing. Fast forward through the archetypal debate and struggle, and we're presented with lots of stylish montage sequences of Rocky and his new protégé training together. Fast cuts and close ups of the two vigorously sculpting Donnie’s boxing skills combined with an enticing hip hop soundtrack provides a fantastic build up to the climax of any boxing movie…
The Big Fight! Cue the appearance of Donnie’s arch nemesis, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, who is played by local Liverpool lad and world champion boxer Tony Bellew. Here Donnie appears to be completely out of his depth, an inexperienced underdog who is no match for an unbeaten World Light Heavyweight Champion like Conlan. Bellew plays the classic boxing villain; menacing and arrogant, with a criminal record, once he realises who Donnie’s father is, appears utterly determined to be maintain his undefeated title.
The Director does a great job in balancing the intensity of the boxing world with lots of sentimental sub plots. Early on in the film Donnie falls for his neighbour Bianca who is a local singer, who reveals her own struggle with having a degenerative hearing problem. Rocky’s ‘tough guy persona’ is also put into jeopardy once we learn of a serious medical condition, leading to touching scenes of a role reversal as Donnie takes the lead and cares for his mentor.
Stylistically, my favourite scene is Donnie’s final training session in Philadelphia before he goes to Liverpool to take on Ricky Conlan. Throughout the movie Donnie is consistently the underdog, the illegitimate child, the boy who never got to meet his legendary father. However, in this scene we see powerful shots of Donnie running through the streets of Philadelphia with scores of local youths chasing after him in support on their motorbikes, circling him like supporters inside the metaphorical boxing ring.
This then leads to the penultimate scene of the ‘Big Fight’ where we finally hear the line the audience has long been waiting for: ‘’I need to prove I wasn’t a mistake!” cries Donnie, after going 12 long rounds with Ricky Conlan.
Engaging and exhilarating, Creed really has something for everyone and Ryan Coogler does a great job in providing a balanced script that is much more than just an homage to the Rocky phenomenon. So forget the stereotypes because this film is truly worthy of all of it’s award nominations (Stallone for Oscar?) and if you really want to know who won the title fight, you'll have to go see it.
Creed is now showing at FACT - see screening times book tickets here.