I’m not a fan of sports movies.
It’s entirely possible that sports films are the most by the book, formula film-type out there. They’re often cheesy, on-the-nose and cliché-ridden. A down in the dumps underdog fights back against all odds and wins, even if they don’t actually “win” in the sport. Even Romantic Comedies deviate from the formula more than these.
And yet, I’m something of a sucker for them when they’re done well. I’m not even talking about something like The Wrestler, which is absolutely fantastic but nothing like your standard “sports film”. I instead mean films like The Fighter, which are beat-by-beat the same as pretty much every other film that has come before. And yet, I can’t help fall in love with it. When done well, sports films are less about the sports and more about the people participating in them.
That’s where Creed comes in.
This is the story of Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s great adversary/friend Apollo Creed, who died in one of the slightly laughable sequels that I think I’ve probably seen 20 minutes of when drunk. Here, Adonis is trying to make his own way in the boxing world and prove he is worthy of the name. He’s out to prove he is more than the bastard child of the in-universe greatest boxer in history, and to do this he hunts down Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic character, Rocky Balboa.
I’ve never really been a fan of Stallone. I just haven’t ever really got what his appeal is. It’s not that I think he is actively bad per se, I’ve just seen him in too many embarrassingly macho roles. I like Rocky, I love First Blood, but apart from that I basically see him as the guy from The Expendables. To me, he’s more 80’s than leggings and David Hasselhoff. It’s weird that he has stood the test of time as well as he has.
With that in mind, I can say without any level of doubt that this is the best performance I have ever seen of his.
It’s funny I mentioned The Wrestler earlier, given there is more than just a vague hint of Micky Rourke’s Randy The Ram about him. One of the wonderful things about the public consciousness move away from the need to be tough, “men’s men” types, is the things you can do with a character who used to be a man’s man. It’s one of the most tragic, loveable things you can put in a screenplay.
He’s magnetic every time he’s on screen, and genuinely deserving of his Golden Globe win/Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The problem here, though, is that Stallone does not make this movie. Don’t get me wrong, he’s brilliant – he’s the cherry on top of the cake, the thing that takes it over the edge of being a great sports film and in to a great film, period. But as good as he is, this is a film about the relationship between two people. If the other half doesn’t work, neither does the film.
Michael B. Jordan (or Wallace from The Wire as he will always be to me) plays Adonis Creed, and absolutely deserves every bit of credit that is going in his co-star’s direction. So why has he been ignored?
The wonderful Alan Rickman put it far better than I possibly could when he said: “Parts win prizes, not actors.”
That’s the difference here. Stallone plays a washed up ex-boxer who gets dragged out of retirement and fights illness to help a young guy reach his nadir. That’s an award-winning role, much like a man stuck on Mars, a man playing a famous innovator, a man undergoing the first sex change, and a man stuck in the frontier with long hair and a beard.
I know I moan a lot about awards, but this is the point where I switch off altogether from them. I’ve always known that they were nonsense, arbitrary decisions from a bunch of old white guys (or 54% over 60, 77% male and 94% Caucasian, to be precise), but praising the role of the famous dude doing the “headline” act and ignoring the guy carrying the film shows a complete lack of understanding for what makes films work (says he who wrote most of this review in his pyjamas).
Michael B. Jordan holds the movie together in a way that a lesser actor could not. He has undergone a significant physical alteration to look the part, has learned a new skill to the extent that he looks perfectly acceptable hooking up with actual boxers in the film, and takes on a role with nuance and skill. Hell, I felt like I was going to cry when he talked about wanting to prove he wasn’t just a mistake, which in no way reflects my own issues so shut up.
It does a disservice to both Jordan and the film to not include him in awards conversations. While Stallone may be the one to make it a “94% on Rotten Tomatoes” film, we’ve seen what can happen when it rests on his shoulders. Jordan carries the film, and does a fine job of it too.
The film is really about the relationship between these two fine performers, and it’s what makes the film work so well. You become totally invested in them both, to the point that once we hit the big fight at the end, people in my theatre were leaping in the air yelling encouragement to Creed. It was absolutely bizarre. I don’t think the person in front of my realised it wasn’t a televised fight, such was the investment he had in the outcome. Sure, it was hilarious, but it also speaks volumes for the quality of the film (and how some people need to get out more).
Indeed, when the film moved away from Creed and Balboa’s relationship and towards Creed and his love interest, the film started to fall apart. I appreciate the desire to add this more human aspect, but it really slowed the pace of the film down in places. This was all about how these two men from totally different backgrounds came together to help each other find a new purpose in life. Everything apart from that felt tacked on.
But this is nit-picking. The direction, editing and pacing were spot on. The fight choreography was breathless and absorbing. They even cast Wood Harris as the guy holding Creed back. I could go on and on about what I loved about this film, and again, this was a sports film. Not just a sports film, but a Rocky film, in 2016.
If anyone is thinking of skipping this film because it’s “not your sort of thing”, don’t*. It might not be a game-changer, it might not re-invent the genre, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk out of the cinema on an absolute high afterwards.
*But, you know, don’t listen to me. I’m sat here in my pyjamas.