|"Your legacy is more than a name."|
“Creed” is perfect. It is everything it needed to be. It’s not the shameless, lazy hollywood cash-in on a respected legacy that it could have been. It’s raw while still being a fable. The people in this movie make sense, what they do comes naturally, if unavoidably from themselves and not simply from the demands of a script. It's about the fight for a sense of self.
Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis "Donnie" Johnson, the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed from the first four Rocky films. We know instinctively that this will be something of an underdog story, with Donnie beginning in rough-and-tumble circumstances and clawing his way up to respect and admiration. But it's not just a remake of the first Rocky movie. Sylvester Stallone's "Italian Stallion" was a schlub who worked his way up to a chance encounter with the reigning king of the ring. And even after that it, takes another film before he fully lands on his feet. Donnie's trajectory somehow walks in the path of giants while carving new ground.
He is saved from a juvenile correctional centre early on. The widow of Apollo Creed("Mary Anne", played by Phylicia Rashad) offers to let him move in with her in the family mansion. He finds a cushy office job. He doesn't need to fight to earn his survival, and that's what haunts him. That corrosive feeling that he didn't earn that life is why he sneaks away to Mexico to participate in underground fights. And he's reluctant to lean on the name-recognition of his famous biological father. Notice how Rashad's character reacts when he tells her this. The look on her face is like the sound of someone drawing out a lightsaber. Of all the fearsome opponents in these movies, she is the last person I would want to face in the ring. Clubber Lang would be a reprieve.
|She knows ten ways to kill a man with that bowl.|
I'm never totally comfortable watching the fight scenes in these movies, especially when I care about the people involved. No matter how much we try to glorify or celebrate two people breaking each other's bones. "Creed" understands this, but also the paradoxical urge to cheer on our favourite person sharing in the violence. I will leave it to boxers and fighting experts to point out which parts are wrong, or exaggerated for the purpose of entertainment. But I don't feel like it cheats to win its’ audience.
There's a romantic subplot involving Donnie's downstairs neighbour "Bianca"(Tessa Thompson). Not only does it not feel forced, but it does not turn Bianca into this movie's "Adrien". At no point does the "concerned wife" character show up. She is an independant creation, cleverly given a backstory that allows her and Adonis to understand and support each other, without making their tryst too easy or convenient. It would have been easy to try and create the myths first. This movie goes out of its' way to present these characters and their relationships as genuine and never truly stable. This means the more fantastical moments carry the weight of our investment. It's baffling how many movies get this so wrong and so backwards.
It's one thing to go back and watch the old Rocky movies. To study them, to understand and enjoy them, and how much they matter to popular culture. But I wasn't there in 1976 to see it firsthand. My first exposure to "Gonna Fly Now" was probably in some commercial, or a cartoon parody. I was sick of hearing it before I'd ever seen Sylvester Stallone run up those steps. I didn't think it could have the same impact as being there and hearing it in its' native habitat, in that time and that place.
The famous trumpet section of that song is used for only a few seconds in "Creed". It was the first time I had heard it in theatres, in the first of these films where I did not know the outcome of The Big Fight. It's magic. It is overwhelming. I'll never get to go back and see the greats of cinema as they were, unaware of what was about to unfold. But seeing Michael B. Jordan run alongside motorcyclists, stagger back onto his feet for just one more round, and knowing everything the film earned to get to that point makes me feel like I was witness to something special. Something that reminds me that I'm alive.
This is the best film of 2015.