Some folks feel that Sly Stallone was robbed of a lifetime achievement award in his nomination for Best Supporting Actor at Sunday night’s Oscar ceremonies.
The greater snub is that Michael B. Jordan’s role as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed, didn’t get nominated at all.
Playing the heir apparent to carry the mantle, “Black Rocky” plays like an urban remix of the original, with a different soundtrack and more realistic drama than 2015’s other boxing flick, Southpaw. Following Adonis’ journey over rugged physical and emotional terrain to build himself into the fighter that he feels in his genes, the film highlights the nuanced portrayals by Jordan and his foil, the craggy-faced Stallone as the original rough-and-tumble Philly hero.
There’s a formula buried underneath Adonis’ struggle, a string of training and bout vignettes strung together, but this is no simple remake. Balboa needs to redeem himself, echoing Stallone’s final(?) epic run at an Oscar, making up time he sees spilling out on the floor. [The late film developments will also make him even more like Burgess Meredith’s Mickey in a career and character arc.] Jordan wants to prove he’s not just a brawler, but he also wants to show himself that he’s not a nameless castoff, the average kid who grew up rough without a father and never escaped that shadow.
Spicing up the storyline are the litany of actual boxers playing boxers from Tony Bellew as “Pretty Ricky” Conlan and Andre Ward as Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler. More interesting are the casting of Phylicia Rashad as Apollo’s wife and Adonis’ foster mother, and Tessa Thompson as the musical love interest of Adonis. These feminine characters add a depth to the real life of Adonis out of the ring – something missing in the aforementioned Southpaw and my favorite fighting film, Warrior.
While films like Spotlight, Room, and Trumbo are meaningful cinema that everyone should see, Creed joins Mad Max as the two films I most appreciated in 2015 – and know that I will rewatch. The story and power of Adonis’ desire to make something of himself, and the way that storyline is played out over both his success and his failure make this worthy of our attention. Nevermind that it’s also full of sermon illustrations and moments of real world (and spiritual) wisdom.
All of us are searching, seeking, yearning to be accepted and to make a difference. Creed shows us that we must cut through all of the “stuff” that gets in our way, all of the things we throw up to hide ourselves from others, to dig down deep. It’s through the crucible of the ring – and life itself – that Adonis discovers that he is who he always wanted to be, with the help of his “family,” and in spite of his insecurities, family background, and societal expectations.