Thursday, March 10, 2016

Creed (2015)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
DP: Maryse Alberti
Editor: Michael P. Shawver, Claudia Castello
Score: Ludwig Göransson
Producer: Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Kevin King-Templeton, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew
Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 2 hrs. 13 min.

When Rocky fights Apollo Creed in the 1976 Rocky, he manages to go the distance because of all his training and resilience in the face personal drama, and for that he's vaulted into success and celebrity.  Rocky is a classic American success story, a story that showcases the power of an individual to seize an opportunity and elevate themselves through a struggle.  It's no mistake that it's set in Philadelphia, the former capital of the United States where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was drafted.

Creed is as much of a success story as Rocky, but also a celebration of the very idea of a success story, and an answer to the seemingly paradoxical American question of how to have a unified community based on individualism. I really have to appreciate the closer contact this film has with the city than Rocky, because to me, that's the key to why the references to previous movies and use of older footage work so well: Adonis Creed is carrying on Rocky's legacy as an inspirational figure, not just as the center of a success story, so it's worth engaging with the community he speaks to.

I also have to appreciate, then, the way the film complicates that status. To some extent, the way others appreciate him as an audience involves fitting him into some schema, and he'd rather fight for himself and be recognized for it. The film does find that it's possible to inspire and overcome that simultaneously, and realizes it in the single-take fight scene, which is rooted in his face and sustained tension; the fight is exhilarating without context, just for Adonis's own passion and intensity.

It lets the fight scenes serve partly as performances, and suggests that inspiration comes from a combination of receiving a performance and respecting the individuality of the performer. This is the basis of the film's romance between Adonis and Tessa Thompson's character, Bianca. She produces music and performs on stage. She has a condition that will cause her to lose her hearing within a few years' time, so she chooses to live out her passion in the moment. Seeing her do this, and understanding her thoughts behind it, is what eventually allows Adonis to accept the public response to his fighting without sacrificing his sense of independence.

This also speaks to Creed's concern with how time leaves people behind. It deliberately dates itself, declaring the year and acknowledging prominent technologies, language, and pop culture. It also contextualizes itself within the Rocky franchise, calling back to previous films (though not in a way that majorly prevents its story from standing alone) and dissociating the Rocky character from elements not of his time period.  

In doing this, it suggests a passing of the reins to a younger generation. As its titular character carries on cultural traditions of Philadelphia, Creed carries on the series of Rocky movies under a new name. As the connection is formed between Rocky and Adonis Creed, the cruelty of time can be, in some respect, beaten back: Rocky's friendship with the long-dead Apollo Creed gains a new dimension, while Adonis gains a new sense of his father and takes on Rocky's legacy as an inspirational figure in the community.  

The way the individual performance of passion builds bridges between people allows this to happen. Creed demonstrates a situation in which mutual understanding and engagement with milieus allows change to occur gracefully, and in a way that allows people to have constantly evolving experiences. 

Creed is never as cutely self-aware as other blockbuster "reboots" or remakes; references to past films are serious resurrections of the past, not jokes.  And even though it doesn't end on a freeze-frame like Rocky, the ultimate victory is every bit in the same spirit: it doesn't matter what happens after because the moment is so great.  Time is an unbeatable opponent, but not one that needs to be fought alone.  

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