Directed by: Steven Caple Jr
Story by: Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Screenplay by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone
Produced by: Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King-Templeton, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren, Phylicia Rashad.
‘Don’t do this.’
‘I ain’t gotta choice.’
‘That’s the same thing your father said and he died right here in my hands.’
Two sons: each unbeatable on their home soil, each bearing the scars of a mortal wound, each with a score to settle.
Toe to toe, the two couldn’t be more different. The challenger, Viktor Drago (Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu), is a man with absolutely nothing but his towering physique and the will to ‘break’ his opponents. Thirty years earlier, Viktor’s family was left fractured and demoralised following a grudge match between his father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Growing up in the Ukraine, Viktor has spent his whole life preparing to avenge his family’s honour. Looming over his American rival Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), Drago presents a brooding mountain of raw-boned muscle with nothing to lose.
Significantly shorter with a much lighter frame, Creed has everything to lose, as his trainer and mentor Rocky Balboa points out. Despite a loving mother (Phylicia Rashad), his adoring partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and a comfortable existence, Creed grew up without his father and he risks exposing his baby daughter to the same fate if he agrees to meet Viktor Drago in the ring.
While dedicated buffs may find some of the action slightly implausible—even on the movie poster Creed has dropped his guard on the left and is telegraphing his right, leaving himself open (if that makes perfect sense, you might need to suspend your disbelief)—for the rest of us the movie delivers an immersive experience. Even on set, a sense of danger was present, with director (Steven Caple Jr) describing the choreography of the action as ‘a hardcore musical’. A single misstep and a real punch would have impacted on real flesh, and all of the blows in the slow motion sequences between Drago and Creed were real: ‘Florian said it was only fifty per cent, but it felt like ah a car crash.’ Even the camera operator, Mike Heathcote took a few hits as Florian was stepping up to the lens to simulate the fight from Creed’s point of view.
More than any other, even Clint Eastwood’s harrowing 2004 Million Dollar Baby, this movie brought home to me how primal that space inside the ring actually is. Even with all of the rules, the referees, the high pants and the gloves, in those three minutes between the bells, two men are locked in a struggle not only for the integrity of their vital organs but, ultimately, for their own consciousness.
With so much at stake, the question Balboa poses to Creed before he steps into the ring is: Why are you doing it? At once he is asking Creed to seek out that nub of grit in his core, at the same time as he asks him whether he should even be stepping into the ring at all. Haunted by Apollo Creed’s death, the ambivalence in Balboa’s question lends depth to the drama and the feeling is echoed by Bianca when she asks Creed as he lurches around the ring after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, ‘Do you know what’s happening?’
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