Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Sequel to: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish, Liev Schreiber (in a voice cameo)
Seen on: 21.1.2016
Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is settled with a big legacy: he is Apollo Creed’s son. He calls himself Donnie and uses his mother’s surname, just to make sure that he isn’t carrying on his father’s legacy but building his own as a boxer, much to the dismay of his foster mother and Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who would rather not see him box at all. But Donnie makes his own plans: he gives up his job in finance, moves to Philadelphia and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylverster Stallone) to ask him whether he’d be willing to train him.
I have to admit that I have not seen any of the Rocky films, so I really have no point of reference for the background of this film. But it isn’t actually necessary. Creed was an engaging sports/boxing film that even brings something new to the table.
Creed’s basic structure is nothing new. New talent and old coach who hasn’t worked in a while come together to win that title/fight. What is a little different about it – apart from the fact that for once it’s not a white guy’s journey we get to watch – is that the underlying psychological fight is not so much with discovering your own strength and showing the world said strength, but with accepting that you’re good enough. Good enough to be who and as you are. Even when you don’t win – as long as you fight hard. You may agree with that message, or not, but personally I think it’s at least nice to get a story that is not about proving a point to others (and yourself) by winning but that is about self-acceptance and trying your best.
Donnie’s relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) also had a different note to it than these relationships usually get. For one, Bianca is disabled – she’s progressively losing her hearing. That fact is part of her character and is discussed in terms of her job as a DJ, but it’s not important to Donnie or their love. Arguably it is a little glossed over, especially considering, as puzzledpeaces remarked, that boxing often leads to neurological damage that affects muscle control, which can make signing extremely hard, but that is a bridge we are very far from crossing with those two. And there is something to be said for the fact that Donnie learns about Tessa’s disability and then just moves on and that it doesn’t become a whole other “everything is problematic about disability” subplot. Generally Bianca has a whole lot existence outside of Donnie’s issues, which is also pretty rare when we look at that kind of films.
There is also the fact that Donnie moves in hypermasculine cycles to begin with (finance, boxing) and additionally is a black man, who racist stereotypes usually cast as so masculine that they come out the other end and are basically animals. And yet he is absolutely tender with Bianca. In one of the most important scenes regarding black masculinity I’ve ever seen in a (mainstream) film, we see Donnie taking care of Bianca’s hair while they sit in bed and talk. It’s an incredibly intimate, tender and sweet moment that lacks all of the usual trademarks of cinematic black men. It’s wonderful.
All of that, plus the wonderful cast, the good pacing and excellent editing, make Creed into a film that even people like me who have a great connection neither to boxing (rather to the contrary in my case. I never realized how fucking long a boxing match is until this film, btw, making the entire thing even worse for me) nor to the Rocky movies will find engaging and worthwhile.