Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish, and Phylicia Rashad
Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Rocky has been defined, by some, as one of the best sports films of all times and one of the best underdog stories of all time as well. You can’t really disagree too much since it’s a story and film that is still passed down today and the characters are still talked about and cared for. So when a new film was announced many were, reasonably, concerned, but when it later found out that the film wouldn’t follow titled hero Rocky Balboa, and instead follow the son of his rival and friend Apollo Creed, fans wondered if the idea was a smart one. Turns out, it was.
Creed isn’t really a passing-of-the-torch kind of film or even a true blue continuation of the story, but rather a spinoff in its own right that keeps the history of the previous Rocky films and keeps Rocky Balboa (Stallone) involved in a lot of ways. The new central character is Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the child of woman that Apollo had an affair with years before. The film actually starts in 1998 with a young Adonis fighting some kids in the juvenile center he’s in when Mary Anne Creed (Rasha) tracks him down and decides to raise him as her own. We jump forward to 2015 where Adonis has a respectable job, but he is following in the footsteps of his legendary father and boxes in small rooms down in Mexico.
Eventually he wants to prove himself – but not taking the Creed name as he doesn’t want things handed to him – and moves down to Philadelphia and seeks out his father’s rival and friend, Rocky Balboa to train him. Rocky turns him down at first telling him that he’s out of the boxing lifestyle and doesn’t think Adonis should go into the sport that his father died in. However, with Adonis begging him on and Rocky seeing that Adonis has tremendous potential, Rocky reluctantly agrees and the two start the journey and fight their own personal battles to leads to a speculator finish.
While Creed follows a new path in Adonis, Rocky still plays a major role in the film. Rocky is going through his own personal battle that is natural and doesn’t seem forced to the sake of trying to make us feel for his character, and even more credit should go to Stallone. He pours himself into Rocky and gives a tremendous performance like we haven’t seen in a long while. But what makes his performance even better is his chemistry and scenes with Michael B. Jordan. The film elevates itself more when the two share scenes together and is probably the only reason Creed works and would have ever worked.
Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors working today and doesn’t try to repeat the same performance or even emulate what Carl Weathers did as Apollo Creed, he plays the role his own way. Jordan manages to balance the chip on his shoulder attitude and being extremely likeable. While he is the “hero” of the film, it doesn’t really mean we have to like him and root for him. However, Jordan makes us root for Adonis. We see and feel his journey, so we know what he is going through and what his motivations are. For all intent-and-purposes, Jordan carries the film on his shoulders and he comfortable doing it.
The supporting cast is good, but they’re overshadowed by the great performances of Jordan and Stallone. Tony Bellew plays the “villain” of the film as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, the boxing champion that – not really a spoiler – Adonis fights at the end. Bellew doesn’t have a lot of screen time and his story is just okay. Tessa Thompson plays Bianca, a singer that Adonis falls for. The love story isn’t anything new in the Rocky films, but the Bianca and Adonis relationship arc doesn’t feel forced and unnecessary, it’s actually a nice counter-balance to the boxing story and shows us the other part of the boxing lifestyle. Thompson’s Bianca thankfully isn’t the typical girlfriend/love interest, she has her own personal story that works for the film and, again, a nice counter-balance to Adonis’ story. Phylicia Rashad coming back to play Mary Anne Creed was great to see, but she doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when she does it’s awesome to watch.
Besides the performances, what makes Creed work is the direction by director Ryan Coogler. Coogler’s only other big screen effort is Fruitvale Station which Jordan also lead, and what got both of them the job to do this film. Coogler manages to bring the same sense of spirit and heart that the original Rocky had, and while he pays homage to the original series he isn’t beating us over the head with it and it’s all done respectfully to build this potentially new series of films. The other great thing that Coogler does great is the boxing scenes. The highlight is definitely the boxing match in the middle of the film. Coogler really puts in the middle of the match in a way that I haven’t really seen a boxing match done before. I thought the boxing scenes in Southpaw earlier this year where done well, but Creed could very well beat them out.
All in all, Creed is definitely a must see film. Filled with a great story and performances by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, Creed feels like another great installment to the Rocky franchise, but also its own standalone film.
5 out of 5