Watching Creed again after its DVD/streaming release March 1 following #OscarsSoWhite weekend, it was even more baffling to me that it didn’t receive more Academy Award nominations. It is a film that seems destined to become a new American classic, more likely so than at least half of the films that were nominated for Best Picture. Creed director Ryan Coogler not only co-wrote and directed a fresh, entertaining way to reboot the Rocky franchise, he was able to tap into the zeitgeist of our current American generation better than any of the Best Picture nominees.
As for visual flourishes, Creed‘s one-shot fight sequence in Adonis’ first pro fight is as unique a filmed sequence as any over the past year. The entire fight was choreographed in a remarkable single Steadicam shot, which in itself is part of the Rocky legacy. One of the first uses of a Steadicam rig was for Sylvester Stallone’s iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum as Rocky Balboa in the original film.
But none of that wasn’t enough to garner a Best Picture nomination. Creed‘s only nomination was Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky as an older, beaten down man. It is one of Sly’s best performances to be sure, but don’t let the sole nomination sell the acting in Creed short. As many have said, Adonis Creed is Michael B. Jordan’s breakout role. It’s actually hard to imagine anyone other than Jordan playing him. He gives Adonis a mix of bravado, anger, insecurity and misguided entitlement that was spot-on for the character.
In boxing films, we like to talk about body transformation. How does an actor like Will Smith become Muhammed Ali, or Robert DeNiro become Jake LaMotta? Jordan was no less committed his craft in this regard. He had never boxed before Creed, but Jordan looks great as a boxer, an over eager, imperfect boxer. The film is as technically sound in its boxing as any I’ve ever seen. Credit Coogler for getting great acting performances from real boxers, but also Jordan’s natural ability.
So why was Jordan overlooked this year at the Oscars? The Academy loves boxing movies more than any other sports film. And according to New York Times writer Brandon K. Thorp’s analysis on what the Academy seems to look for in black performances, Jordan should have fit right in. Or maybe he wasn’t broken enough. Adonis Creed is a normal dude, coming from a place of privilege, trying to find credibility and authenticity in his life. And that’s not the kind of role that black actors get credit for portraying too often, according to Thorp’s study.
If Jordan’s acting is understated, his technical proficiency and body transformation is not, or rather it shouldn’t be as we describe it. Watch Jake Gyllenhaal fight in last year’s Southpaw. Gyllenhaal could claim to be just as committed as Jordan in the gym, but when you compare their respective fight scenes, it’s not even close. It’s almost a shame that Jordan looks so good as a boxer, he makes it look too easy. But the great fighting isn’t limited Jordan’s performance.
A Rocky movie just isn’t any good without a great final opponent. Pro boxer and former light-heavyweight champion Tony Bellew’s “Pretty” Ricky Conlan may never be as iconic as Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago, but that’s not Bellew’s fault. He is viscerally more intimidating than any of Rocky’s previous foes, except maybe Clubber Lang. Creed is simply a more restrained film. Bellew subtly embodies the villain’s role, staring right through you rather than taunting you. But Creed‘s subtlety works, particularly for the audience that has already seen and lived through the “Living in America” fanfare of early Rocky films.
So I’m reminded now to forget the Oscars, as I have since I began my personal boycott 10 years ago for the Best Picture That Shall Not Be Named. Adonis Creed is the hero this generation needs. Time and sequels will determine whether Creed is destined to follow in the footsteps of Rocky as one of our great American icons.
SPECIAL FEATURES: There are no exclusive special features included on the DVD. You can also find the featurettes on YouTube. Maybe after Creed III or IV, we’ll get a box set with full commentary from director Ryan Coogler.