In 2013, director Ryan Coogler and lead actor Michael B. Jordan established a perfect chemistry with Fruitvale Station, a rich and powerful film that I consider one of the best from that year. The pair displayed an uncharacteristic genius for such early points in their careers, and I was thrilled to see where the two new voices would go in the future. With Creed, the latest film in the Rocky franchise, they show that they are some of the strongest new voices in film.
The film tells the story of Apollo Creed's son, Adonis, played by Jordan, a boxer who is struggling to establish his own strength and distance himself from his father's legacy. The parallels between this and the creation of the film are obvious, and, truth be told, I feel as though that may be one of the main flaws in the film's structure. It spends so much time claiming to "build its own legacy" that, in the process, it lets that be its entire mission statement. It is particularly frustrating because it takes up so much of the film's time without actually saying anything meaningful. What could be clever subtext becomes heavy-handed and shallow.
That's not to say it's a truly poorly-written film; in fact, it has a very strong script hidden behind this. Ryan Coogler approaches the characters with a surprising level of confidence, and, if there is one thing to be said about his style as a filmmaker, it is that he has mastered human interaction. If there's any character who wasn't particularly developed, it is Rocky Balboa himself, whose inclusion in the film, despite having a strong, understated performance from Sylvester Stallone, feels, at least on the narrative level, like an afterthought.
If there is anything the film does well, however, it is the creation of an atmosphere. There is a constant use of shadows in its visual design that creates an electric energy that gives the film the power that it needs to truly succeed, and the focus on the actors faces, while possibly being visually flat in most instances, pays off due to the strength of expression in the actors' performances and the constant movement of the scene. It is a generally very well-shot film, and, in particular, there is one particularly impressive boxing sequence captured in one take, a stylistic choice that has grown popular lately. In this instance, however, it is not merely to be impressive, but, rather, it excels in the display of intensity required for a scene of that style.
Creed is a film that exudes class in everything it does, even when it falters. It is a film full of originality and talent that, unfortunately, is set to be overlooked due to its connection to a long-running franchise. That is, overall, the biggest issue I have with the movie; it forces itself to be a Rocky movie. It would have worked so much better had it been given the room to truly work, but, sadly, this is all we can have. Misplaced or not, however, there was a lot of intelligence and care in the craft of this film, and that's what allows it to stand as a strong effort from a few rising stars.