November 26, 2015

CINEMA | Michael B. Jordan Flies High – 'Creed'

"Time takes everyone out. It's undefeated."
Michael B. Jordan Sylvester Stallone | Creed

Fruitvale Station writer/director Ryan Coogler has reteamed with actor Michael B. Jordan for a surprising but welcoming second feature. Creed is a spin-off of the famous Rocky boxing dramas once again starring the now sixty-nine year-old Sylvester Stallone—this time as a supporting character in the "Mickey" trainer role—alongside Jordan playing the talented but troubled Adonis "Donnie" Johnson, the previously unseen, illegitimate son of ex-heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who famously died in the ring during Rocky IV.

For Rocky fans, Creed has all the familiar elements without becoming a total rehash. It uses nostalgia and its contemporary setting to please and delight us while it explores our collective sense of legacy and fatherhood. Coogler's behind the camera instincts are on point with many memorable, but not too showy, long takes from cinematographer Maryse Alberti giving you insight into the boxer's psyche. This is nowhere more evident than seen during the first professional boxing match midway through and filmed in one continuous, breathtaking shot.

The film, co-written by Coogler and Aaron Covington, is neither a remake or reboot and really elevates the Rocky mythology while treating the previous six films—aside from maybe the dreadful Rocky V—with a loving hand building on them. I was near tears on three separate occasions from witnessing the low key but powerfully gripping performances by Stallone and Jordan who share a complicated yet satisfying relationship on screen. The veteran Stallone, also a producer, but free from writing or directing duties, really shines and shows all his reverence for his trademark character with some heartwrenching, impassioned yet naturalistic speeches about love and loss. It's a comeback performance for the ages likely to give him some renewed interest in his acting skills.

Jordan's earnest portrayal of an orphan, later raised in privilege, struggling with class and identity, while simultaneously making his own name in the shadow of a father he never knew, is both soft yet harsh in a wholly captivating performance that really reaches that sweet spot meeting the levels of the first Rocky. Donnie's west coast background juxtaposed with Rocky Balboa's Philadelphia roots has the same structure as previous films but forges its own unique journey as it highlights the city's now dominant African-American population and culture implicitly and in a loving light. Jordan's chemistry with his love interest, an experimental musician played by a charismatic Tessa Thompson, is thoughtful as she plays a woman also trying to forge her own path in life as well.

The very heartfelt Creed not only lives up to the Rocky franchise as a more than worthy successor but  also establishes its own fresh take on the classic boxer's tale. Jordan and Stallone make for a compelling duo in and outside of the ring as Coogler's confident, technically dazzling direction lifts the well worn story to familiar but very crowd-pleasing heights. Creed wins and wins big by total knockout as both a superb Rocky film and an even better standalone film on its own.

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