Spike and Denzel? Singleton and Fishburne? I don’t know if these pairing comparisons can be made, just yet. Both Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are still young craftsmen in the film industry, but maybe that proves the point. Their work together on Fruitvale Station and now this Rocky spin-off shows their relationship has moved beyond simply budding and become officially the stuff of movie magic.
Creed is a very well made movie. Simple as that. Without spoiling too much (though perhaps some spoilage) I’ve seen all of the other Rocky movies. And I saw them as they were released, not because of a Spike TV marathon that’s on because Creed is currently in theaters. This new installment has all the staples of any Rocky or sports movie: training scenes with motivating scores, tender moments of loss and overcoming life obstacles, fights outside the ring as well as within, and even a chicken-chasing scene. I found myself with only three legitimate nit picks about the film, but I’d rather talk about the scene that stood out most to me: the jail scene.
The title character, Adonis, reaches that point in every film where a lie is revealed and there is an irrational, emotional reaction that leaves our severely six-packed protagonist at his rock bottom. No trainer, no guidance, no love interest–no access to anything he needs to be the best him. This movie is about creating an identity and when Adonis is suddenly derailed from that journey, he lashes out. At everyone. He sits in jail, as if a caged animal. Stallone’s Balboa comes to talk some sense into Adonis, but he’s not hearing it. Jordan’s ability to move through a scene showing reflection, anger, sadness, vulnerability, and closed-off-ness is an astounding acting feat in and of itself–but in a boxing movie? Million Dollar Baby is the only other flick I can think of that has great talents who generate a similar emotional response for viewers. Coogler gets a few similar scenes from Jordan in Fruitvale, ironically, also in a jail scene with the character Oscar’s mother who is appalled to see the kind of person her baby can be, but it’s his survival self. A self generated by street life. The same goes for Adonis. He starts in the streets and–though he does find consistency and love from his father’s widow–he harbors a deeply-rooted anger that bubbles beneath the surface.
The one-two punch (ha!) of this actor and director/writer team must be relished because of how rare it is when both parties are black. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson spring to mind as another more recent example of a duo that came together early, but TWO black guys producing juggernaut performances like this? Psh. This is great art, jo. Also, the other films I mentioned were on a smaller scale or were not entries in major franchises with major studios that have cumulatively made major bank. Coogler is trekking some interesting terrain here and he and Jordan are carving a wondrous path that’s exciting to witness.
Oh, and Mr. Coogler; don’t think I don’t see that Creed has elements of Boyz n the Hood, homie. Young Adonis starts the movie with a fight because of what another kid says, same as young Trey Styles. Both kids end up moving to get guidance from the parent who seems best equipped to handle his particular set of challenges. Older Trey gets mad after a run-in with police and shadow boxes in the living room while crying. The actor that plays young Adonis does favor a young Trey, too. Sooo…basically, Creed is the exact same movie as Boyz n the Hood except it’s in Philly with slightly more boxing. I see you, Mr. Coogler. So when you gonna do your Higher Learning? Poetic Justice, maybe? Dang…Malcolm X. We’ll be watching and waiting, homie.