Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a mixed bag to say the least, extending the Rocky franchise to a seventh outing.
Whether that is a lucky or unlucky seventh is very much open to debate.
Ever since the Rocky motion picture hit the big screens in 1976, each subsequent sequel has wrestled to varying extents with attempting to emulate the key ingredients that made the original such a hit. Any gritty story of an underdog coming good will always be heading along the right tracks if it wants to sway an audience, it’s true, but very few, if any, have managed to produce anything remotely as genuine and whole-hearted as the original with Rocky II and Rocky Balboa arguably being the exceptions.
Creed on the other hand suffers, like each of the other sequels that preceded it, from wanting its cake and eating it; attempting on the one hand to tell a low-key, grass roots tale of a guy trying to discover his identity and path in life in spite of his lineage, whilst on the other hand, being seduced like all of the others into the irresistible temptation of the big-hitting, glamorous boxing showpiece event, and Creed really ought not to have resorted to the latter, even if that would have meant sacrificing the shameless Everton Football Club plug towards the end; centre stage for the film’s finale.
Yes, the big fight takes place at Goodison Park; and who said Robert Earl – the entrepreneur behind the Planet Hollywood chain – was just a name on Everton Football Club’s board of directors?!
Michael B. Jordan plays the film’s lead, Donnie Johnson, whose biological father, through an act of infidelity, was Apollo Creed, the late heavyweight champion of the world. Donnie never knew his father, but is tracked down at the young offenders institute that he calls home by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne – nice to see Phylicia Rashad of Cosby Show fame back on the screen again, and still looking gorgeous for that matter. She adopts Donnie (though why remains the pertinent question?), raising him to be a respectable young man with a respectable job and career path ahead of him.
But you can’t fight genetics!
Donnie, already engaging in under-the-radar bouts in Mexico, wants to be a professional boxer and dispenses with the ‘respectable’ life style he’s carved out for himself in L.A, ups sticks and heads for the City of Brotherly Love to seek out Philadelphia’s finest, Rocky Balboa; now living the quiet life and understandably reluctant to accept Johnson’s request to train him.
Of course, as the narrative dictates, he’s talked around into doing so, and much like the circumstances behind Rocky’s own original shot at the title, Johnson (a.k.a Creed) is invited, as a PR exercise more than anything, to fight the reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, (actual professional boxer, Liverpool’s own, Anthony Bellew).
Sadly, Creed is all rather straight forward from there, and not in a good way. For all the thought provoking questions regarding identity, age and our place in the world that the film threatens to raise and explore, it can’t resist culminating in an inevitable, glitzy showdown that’s sadly, right up there with the worst aspects of Rocky film legacy.
It’s not without its positives though. There’s a tender performance from Tessa Thompson – Johnson’s girlfriend, Bianca – lots of tips of the hat and nods of the head to Rocky references of yesteryear and a genuinely uplifting training scene cleverly bringing Rocky’s famous running scene through his native Philadelphia up to date, with Johnson, flanked by a posse of Philadelphia biker boys, racing through the streets as though his life depended upon it. Heart pounding stuff.
There is of course little doubt that the Rocky franchise would have been a short-lived footnote in history without the presence of Sylvester Stallone. The original Rocky was his screenplay and he lived and breathed that part. The world fell in love with the big galoot with a slight speech impediment and an enormous heart. His ability to almost single handedly drag sequels kicking and screaming through some of the most excruciatingly cheesy and contrived content imaginable, is a great testament to the man and the esteem in which the public hold him. Pretty much the sole reason, I’d wager, why crowds continue to come back for more.
It’s genuinely good to see him back, reprising his most famous and endearing role, but once again, it’s Stallone’s input, this time in Creed, that provides the true saving grace for what is, if truth be told, a rather confused and patchy sequel.