The first Hollywood movie I ever watched was Rambo: First Blood. From then on, I wanted to be John Rambo. I got the plastic edition of the Rambo knife, the toy Kalashnikov, imaginary biceps and a head band.
Then, I watched Rocky. I knew I can’t be Rocky but since then, the Italian Stallion from Philadelphia has always remained as one of my most adored heroes. Rocky II made the bond stronger. Rocky III instilled faith. Rocky IV etched a special place in my heart. Then Rocky V and Rocky Balboa happened. Though the strength of the bond never wavered but it was painful to see your favourite hero go out on the crutches of bad writing and pathetic direction. Add to that Grudge Match.
I decided not to watch Creed. I refused to see another painful rendition. Then, Sylvester Stallone won the Golden Globes. Now, he’s nominated for the Oscars. I couldn’t have waited any longer.
Thank God, I didn’t.
The movie Creed is the most fitting finale for Rocky Balboa. It’s not a Rocky movie but it offers a deserving tribute to the Italian Stallion. As a movie, it’s got nothing that you haven’t seen before — an underdog fighter, a champion opponent, an ailing forgotten hero and a classic ending.
But Creed works.
Creed works because it captures the spirit of Rocky perfectly. Creed works because Michael B. Jordan packs a serious punch as Adonis Creed. He fights and boy, he fights well. Creed works because Stallone delivers his best Balboa performance without throwing a single jab.
Ryan Coogler, the director, does a fabulous job. He makes a Rocky sequel but doesn’t ape the series. He gives Creed his own identity. He follows the story of Adonis and lets Rocky take a back seat. He also does away with most of the Rocky-isms. There’s no ‘great white hope’ theme. There’s no ‘America’s the best’ message. He even switches the theme music — rap takes over from the Eye of the Tiger.
He also does away with a few clichés. Normally fighters come from the streets. Adonis lives in a mansion in Hollywood and has a high paying job. Donnie – as he is popularly known – is the illegitimate son of a former Champion Apollo but is raised by his wife Mary Anne.
Coogler keeps it real. He makes Jordan fight boxers. He pitches him against the EBU and former WBO International Cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew. Coogler keeps it raw. He makes Jordan bleed. He makes him throw-up. Heck, he makes him run to the toilet just before the fight. He follows proper boxing strategies and makes Rocky don the ‘Mickey’ hat.
However, there’s no missing the subtle Rocky undertones. Adonis gets his own Adrian. Tony Bellew bears shades of Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. Adonis floats like Apollo and stings like Rocky — his body punches against a superior opponent brings back memories of the Drago-Rocky fight, while his fast feet is a throwback to Apollo’s style. And the Rocky theme music makes an entrance only in the last round.
But most importantly, Coogler makes Rocky fight a different battle. He makes him struggle in the real world against his creaking joints, weak heart, loneliness and cancer. Stallone fights, fumbles, groans and delivers a stellar show — one step at a time, one punch at a time, and one round at a time. There’s no subtlety but his vulnerability shakes the audience and he walked away with a Golden Globes for portraying the weakest form of his strongest character.
Stallone may not win the Oscars but Rocky fans shouldn’t be disheartened because Creed brings down the curtain gracefully on their favourite hero. There may be more installments of Creed but certainly there won’t be any more Rocky movies because as Balboa says, “Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated…”