No matter how fondly remembered the original Rocky film remains, there was on paper really no reason to reboot the Philly boxing saga after 2006's apparent coda Rocky Balboa. And then, like a totally unexpected uppercut, here comes Creed, effectively passing the torch from one generation to another in a surprisingly punchy way, shifting its focus from the aged Italian Stallion to newcomer Adonis Johnson, the late Apollo Creed's illegitimate son saved from a struggling life by Apollo's widow Mary Anne.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler updates and resets the tale of a hungry young man with a dream to the post-Katrina, post-Baltimore times, while avoiding any overt politicization and wearing its contemporariness lightly. Creed isn't a tract about contemporary black America - the young director's 2013 debut Fruitvale Station didn't want to be one either thought it couldn't help it at times - focussing instead on making a gritty, powerful genre exercise that reflects the times it was made in.
It's a tale of lineage and family not as something inherited but as something chosen - a choice that may in itself be extremely relevant to our day and age. Adonis (played with the right level of intensity by Michael B. Jordan) comes from a broken home and seems directed towards the petty-crime cliché of the aimless young black male; instead he is nurtured by Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who gives him all he needs to make his own decisions for himself, and the choice to follow the dream of boxing leads him to ask guidance from Rocky - played by Sylvester Stallone as an affectingly world-weary supporting role that lends pathos and a sense of "blessing" to the film. Creed thus projects the idea that "it takes a village" to raise someone to his full potential, but not just "any" village - it has to be the right village.
Attentive to the texture and realism of the Philadelphia streets (as he was of the Bay Area in Fruitvale Station) shot without any touristic affectation, Mr. Coogler makes no apologies for profiting from the ready-made Rocky mythology to leave his own mark and confidently present his own take on the boxing movie. The result, bookended by two extraordinarily shot boxing matches that suggest the director has done his homework right, may be occasionally over-long (and suffer from an overly bombastic music score) but is never less than kinetic and avoids all sorts of gratuitous show-off. Creed is less a grand artistic statement than a meeting between an earnest filmmaking drive to tell stories of modern America and a big-studio franchise. Yes, there may still be hope for the mid-level Hollywood drama.
USA, 2015, 133 minutes
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
Directed by Ryan Coogler; written by Mr. Coogler and Aaron Covington from a story by Mr. Coogler; cinematographer Maryse Alberti (widescreen); music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer Hannah Beachler; costume designers Emma Potter and Antoinette Messam; film editors Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello; produced by Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King-Templeton and Mr. Stallone; a Chartoff-Winkler Productions production, presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures in association with New Line Cinema
Screened December 18th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon