Black Panther marks the third collaboration of Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan and judging by the positive reactions on Twitter from critics that have seen it, it appears that the duo has gone three for three. They made a big splash at Sundance back in 2013 with Coogler’s directorial debut Fruitvale Station and they breathed new life into the Rocky franchise with Creed. Now, they’ve made their mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Black Panther which is poised to be a record-breaking smash.
But for this post, I want to talk about Creed.
When Creed came out in 2015, it turned out to be one of the year’s best surprises. Despite it being the seventh installment of a decades long franchise, Ryan Coogler made it feel refreshing by making the story about Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s first opponent, Apollo Creed. Also, instead of Rocky stepping into the ring, he acts as Adonis’ trainer.
It was a surefire crowd pleaser that thankfully received awards attention yet still didn’t receive as much as it should have. Sylvester Stallone ended up being nominated for his brilliant work in Best Supporting Actor as the aging Rocky Balboa. But because he was ironically yet awkwardly the film’s only representation, we ended up with #OscarsSoWhite in the acting categories for the second year in a row.
The campaign surrounding Creed may have been about pushing for Sylvester Stallone to get an Oscar. But it still felt so wrong to only go for him and not Michael B. Jordan who is the center of the picture and in my opinion, gives a better performance than every performance that was up for Best Actor that year (Sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant). While Fruitvale Station may have been Michael B. Jordan’s breakthrough onto the film front after making a name for himself on television (The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), Creed feels like his “star is born” moment because he is charismatic while showing depth and his character’s lifelong hurt in the form of physical punches.
Then there’s Ryan Coogler in Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. After you make a buzzy debut film, there’s likely a lot of pressure over whether you’ll be able to capitalize on it with your next feature. Thankfully, Coogler didn’t suffer what is called the “sophomore slump” with Creed. The script from Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington captures the heartfelt spirit of the original Rocky. But the way Coogler directs the boxing matches, which are the film’s centerpieces, feels completely new and refreshing. I mean, the first match that is done entirely in one take was one of the best film sequences of 2015.
Of course, it deserved Best Picture consideration as well. One reason because of its quality and also, a nomination would’ve been a complete game changer. Typically, films with African-American leads often deal with racial politics (i.e. Django Unchained, The Help, 12 Years A Slave, Selma, etc.). But in Creed, race is never a plot point. While the main character may be the son of Apollo Creed and require a black actor to portray him, even if you were to change the protagonist’s name but still cast Michael B. Jordan, it wouldn’t drastically alter the storyline.
Other areas worthy of consideration include Best Cinematography for Maryse Alberti and Best Film Editing for Claudia Castello and Michael B. Shawver. A case could’ve even been made for Tessa Thompson in Best Supporting Actress. She may be playing a girlfriend role that is essentially the new Adrian yet she still makes the role her own.
For what it’s worth, the success of Creed has helped Ryan Coogler land Black Panther and helped Michael B. Jordan get back on his feet after the critically derided Fantastic Four reboot the very same year, giving him much needed staying power. But here’s hoping that after Black Panther, the collaboration between Coogler and Jordan continues to flourish.