Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)

On paper, Creed seemed like another wave-riding dose of nostalgia meant to reboot the nearly forty-year-old Rocky franchise. It merely places the lovable underdog in the role of mentor to his rival-turned-friend Apollo’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), the latter of whom is unaware of his biological link to this legacy. As he consciously pushes toward establishing himself as a credible fighter without the help of his surname, the touching codependency between Adonis and Rocky yields something more substantial than athletic superstardom alone.

As with Fruitvale Station, Coogler forgoes narrative contrivances in favor of human authenticity and corresponding themes. Creed uses its accessibility to its utmost advantage to epitomize its importance as a truly affecting piece of cinema, from Adonis’ troubled humble beginnings to his tackling his aspirations head-on. The familiarity of his desire to pave his own way notwithstanding, Jordan and Stallone’s chemistry pair wonderfully with the film’s organically evolving, moreover entirely involving trajectory along Adonis’ climb to the top.

You either will or won’t fall victim to the film’s more rudimentary charms as an entirely emotional experience, but Creed‘s merits extend beyond its wonderfully realized characters to a staggering uniqueness of presentation. The oft-discussed single-take fight sequence comes to mind, of which is brilliantly staged on account of this conceit and the physical commitment put forth by Jordan’s Adonis and his opponents. Rarely has boxing looked this good onscreen, not to mention how Coogler’s touch bolsters a climactic sequence characteristic of this sporting niche, elevating the bout above predecessors’ frequently rote finales.

Creed is above all an emotionally resonant revival of the canon Stallone attempted to close out with 2006’s agreeably entertaining Rocky Balboa. It coasts amiably along thanks to the superb chemistry on display that’s often the crutch on which a uncomplicated narrative rests. Adonis and Rocky’s joint journey upward, although nostalgic on account of the latter’s association, doesn’t lean too heavily on nods to the franchise’s past to instead establish a singularly functional branch of Stallone’s brainchild.

Franchise Friday, Vol. 1: Rambo

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Welcome to the first installment of Franchise Friday! What began as a mild-mannered effort to catch up on lauded anthologies of decades past quickly morphed into this – an earnest tackling of previously unseen cinema via long-winded ranting. As always, I plan on making this a weekly feature until something inevitably comes up, but in the meantime, take my word for it. Enjoy!

Rambo

Highly representative of the testosterone era of typically mindless cinema, Stallone’s John Rambo is the quintessential fictional war hero – battle-hardened, nearly infallible and an advocate of letting actions speak louder than words. Capitalizing more on the blood and bombast that permeated First Blood amid commentary on America’s post-Vietnam sentiments, the second and third entries into the fabled Green Beret’s legacy don’t hold a candle to the one that started it all. Schlocky to a fault and wildly exploitative of character, First Blood Part II and Rambo III aren’t necessarily worth anyone’s time, but hey, the franchise’s longevity is hard to ignore, and continue to discuss it I shall.

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