Ryan Coogler's "Creed" (2015): Look who is in the boxing town!

Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Anirban Lahiri

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Creed (2015) - By Ryan Coogler
Our Rating: 6.5
IMDb Ratings: 8.7
Genre: Drama | Sport
CastMichael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 133 min
Color: Color

Summary: Apollo Creed is dead. But, his illegitimate son, Adonis flies to Philadelphia to meet Rocky Balboa. Adonis wants to be the best boxer. Would Rocky mentor him?
Our generation grew up from the early teenage on a weekly superdose of  martial art and serious street-fight movies. I watched more than two hundred fight movies between the tenth and twelfth standards, more than eighty percent of them in theatrical projection. Although Rocky (1976) was not a technically authentic fighter film, not even in the standard of Enter the Dragon (1973) or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), let alone a truly authentic-style cum moderately impressive cinematic expression like Sanshiro Sugata (1943) or Raging Bull (1980), we loved Stallone’s alter ego – the film that gave him his only Academy award, for Original Screenplay.

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976)
Bruce Lee was a serious martial artist – an average one on the standard of a finished Shaolin product though. Yet, he was damn serious about his craft. He was a damn good teacher too. Liu Chia-Hui AKA Gordon Liu was a trained fighter in many different Southern Chinese martial art styles under some legendary Kung Fu Masters. But, none of the actors in Kurosawa’s Judo Saga was professional judoka. It was the same for most others, including Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s boxing film. Stallone had an advantage over many others in this line. He matched the role of a socially awkward, recluse, boxer.

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa (2006)
After his birth as the World Champion, Rocky evolved with time, through five films. Four decades after his world class debut and win, he is back to push the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed to kiss the ring of another World Championship in heavyweight boxing. Nothing could have foddered the cycle of eternal return better. This was the best option to extend the series; and this works!

Rocky and Creed
The narrative has nothing new. The film treads the old track set by countless boxing, and other  fighting, films. Brotherhood of fighters, an underdog trying it alone (well, with the help of a mentor, just like Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars), a girlfriend (rarely the sex reversal is there, even today. Maybe the genre is too macho for that) helping in disentangling the ego problems, a sudden opportunity (for Rocky the opportunity was truly fortuitous. For Creed, it comes at the cost of the name of the father with which he must reconcile to contribute to, and get the maximum out of, the society and the boxing ring), and an impressive showdown of passion.

Creed and Bianca
Just like Rocky, and less like films such as Blood Sport (1988), Creed is more about knowing oneself – in a quasi-Fruedian (or, should I say, Lacanian?) way through the game of boxing, and the final match. Mirror, as in so many other social, and symbolic, reconciliation movies, is used as a prop to get past the block – the continued refusal of recognizing the name of the father, and one’s own identity (as they say, identity is always social – attributed by a third party). The final moment of carrying two names – each for one parent – on the boxing pant gifted to Adonis Johnson Creed by his foster mother.

Creed in the ring
It is because of the millennia-old neurosis – the identity reconciliation problem – that Creed is doing well at the box-office. We love the old wine presented even in the old bottle, when the wine is part of Jesus’ blood. Our society is set up on such values, and our continuing, partial, reconciliation to them constructs our lives. The extreme low-key low-contrast photography (any Bollywood cameraman would call that highly risky, and hence, to be avoided) throughout the beginning of the movie connotes the drudgery associated with such a collective neurosis.

Creed warming up
Following the rules of the game, Rocky’s own fight with cancer goes on in a complementary track. The two fights culminate in the boxing ring against the current heavyweight boxing World Champion, Ricky Conlan from England. Will Creed win the match? Is this going to be a repeat of Rocky? The answer must be savoured in the theatre – both the answer and the process of getting that. 

We all want success, no matter where we begin. Few of us touch the finishing line. For even fewer, the finishing mark keeps shifting away. By our own choice, the goal changes; it becomes more difficult with every step. Stallone once remarked it is not important if a man wins or loses, it is important whether he wants to fight. Bob Dylan echoed that when he remarked that a guy who works in a cityside petrol pump was a person who was the most important inspiration for him. We forget, in the greed for power, that life is a process, and not a commodity. 

The normal shutter Angle and frame rate in Creed, producing enough motion blur, reminded me of the process, in contrast to the product. Bruce Lee's chiseled, sharp actions without unwanted motion blur (except when he specifically wanted that), carry the smoothness of a polished product. Creed confidently dispenses with that smoothness.

It is indeed the realism in the fight that rivets the audience to the seat, clasping the fists in real tension. Two rounds of the final boxing match was taken continuously, without a cut, to retain this realism. Thanks to the expertise of the DP Maryse Alberti, her steadicam operator Ben Semanoff, and the fight and stunt coordinator Clayton J. Barber, the entire action, and Creed's loneliness inside the boxing ring, pull off in an organic way. Boxing is not a team game. You cannot depend on anyone inside the ring; not even on your coach. You are completely on your own - for a literal life or death. Only a single take could sculpt that blunt and raw deal out.

The Final Fight : Creed and Conlan
So, who wins in the end? Is it the product or the process? Is the question meaningless? Is the answer difficult? Creed actually has an answer for this.

It lies in simplicity – one step – one punch – one round. Making it complex would always lead to neurosis.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!


Creed (2015) Trailer

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