Not Your Papa’s Rocky VII (I’m Assuming*), or, Creed I

creed

“With Arms Wide Open,” or whatever.

When I think about being overwhelmed by a film I think of Wally Pfister and Hans Zimmer, the director of photography and composer for most of Christopher Nolan’s films. I think of life or death stakes. I think of dizzying spectacle. I think of loud noises and big pictures of faraway places.

Creed is about boxing in Pennsylvania. And it is absolutely overwhelming.

Director Ryan Coogler’s contribution to the Rocky franchise achieves that Nolanesque sense of sweeping grandeur without leaving the planet. It had me excitedly tapping my feet like Dave Lombardo. It had me tense and excited and wide-eyed. It had me overcome with pride for a fictional character. And it achieved it all without ever leaving the planet, blowing something up or even brandishing a gun.

Creed takes an arguably tired narrative, the struggle for athletic greatness, and breathes so much new life into it that it inflates and blocks out the sun, it success due in no small part to Michael B. Jordan’s endearing performance, a masterful script by Coogler and Aaron Covington and the deft camerawork of cinematographer Maryse Alberti.

With any luck Creed will go down as the film that cemented Michael B. Jordan as one of the most capable leading men of the next decade. Jordan is simultaneously fluent in both the emotion and physicality of Adonis Creed. He’s at once a deft dramatic actor and a straight up walking muscle.

Jordan performs his heart and biceps out through Coogler and Covington’s smart, fresh script alongside Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson, who play his mentor and love interest respectively. Jordan is obviously the lead here but both Stallone and Thompson are given real meat to sink dramatic teeth into, which is a no-brainier when you’re playing Rocky Balboa, but how many female love interests in any movie have a narrative that feels like it’s worthy of its own film? I would watch a movie about Thompson’s character Bianca right here and now.

The script doesn’t just achieve a harmonious balance between characters though, it also manages, like Jordan, to blend staggering athleticism with a more intimate sense of drama. The film’s climactic final bout is massive and yet the real revelation of the movie sneaks in like you’ve just been gut punched by a five-year-old while you were busy staring down Goliath. The emotional core of Creed isn’t overshadowed by the movie’s big finale, rather, the juxtaposition between the two drives home an already poignant sentiment.

The performances and the script are captured beautifully by Alberti, who ensures the film is as visually impactful as it is emotionally.

*I’ve never seen Rocky (Long story. Get over it). Any of them. I don’t have six films of continuity propping Creed up for me. It had to stand on its own with characters I was meeting for the first time and whose personal histories I knew of only through their own dialogue. And Creed absolutely delivered. It doesn’t feel like another rehashed installment in a blockbuster franchise, it feels like a singular achievement. This isn’t Rocky VII, its Creed I. It’s a film that’s so good in its own right that it’ll make you forget training montages are a trope.

When I watched Creed I didn’t want to go watch all the Rocky movies for the first time, I wanted to watch Creed again.

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