2015, PG-13, 132 mins.
2015, PG-13, 132 mins.
Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed / Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa / Graham McTavish as Tommy Holiday / Tessa Thompson as Bianca / Phylicia Rashād as Mary Anne Creed / Hans Marrero as Flores / Tony Bellew as 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan / Brian Anthony Wilson as James / Ritchie Coster as Pete Sporino / Jacob 'Stitch' Duran as Stitch / Malik Bazille as Amir / Wood Harris as Tony 'Little Duke' Burton / Gabe Rosado as Leo 'The Lion' Sporino
Directed by Ryan Coogler / Written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
Rather improbably, CREED - much like a certain boxer from Philadelphia - is a film that utterly defies the odds. It might be the best entry in the iconic ROCKY series since…well…the original 1976 Oscar nominated film that made Sylvester Stallone and The Italian Stallion household names.
introductory franchise chapter in most thematic and story respects, CREED
(the seventh film - a sort of sequel, sort of spin-off - in this pugilist saga) wisely understands that the Rocky
Balboa cinematic universe is not really about boxing at all, something
that far too many of the lackluster sequels forgot.
No, this franchise is ostensibly about the internal struggles of
low self-confidence and moving past impossible obstacles to prove to yourself
and those around you of your inherent worthiness. CREED
may obviously echo many of the core story elements of ROCKY and utilizes
many of its inherent formulas, but the manner that this film uses them and
uses them well is its chief asset. The
fact that a film so late in a series can somehow feel fresh and
invigorating is frankly astonishing.
CREED does simmer with the same level of rousing underdog intensity that
the very first ROCKY picture had. It
should be noted that the film marks the very first time that a ROCKY film
was neither written nor directed by Stallone himself.
For this round (pun unintended) writer/director Ryan Coogler (whom
previously made on the best films of 2013 in FRUITVALE
STATION) is at the helm and the infusion of new blood is precisely
what this aging franchise needs. While
paying the utmost respect to the classic ROCKY film cannon while
simultaneously taking the series in new directions for modern consumption,
Coogler fashions a wonderfully heartfelt ode to Stallone’s greatest
film character that also serves as a bold introduction to a new lead
persona that just may spawn his own series of movies.
There’s a reason that this movie is called CREED - Rocky still
casts an omnipotent shadow over the proceedings, but there’s a
definitive sense of the series passing on the torch to a newcomer.
newcomer, of course, is Creed himself, a name that’s overtly familiar to
anyone that’s even vaguely familiar with ROCKY lore.
Apollo Creed was Rocky’s greatest squared-circle adversary turned
loyal friend, but he (SPOILER ALERT) died in the ring in 1985's ROCKY IV.
CREED is about his offspring Adonis, a child that would never know
his famous father, seeing as he was the product of a secret extramarital
affair and died before he was born. Adonis
would go on to live a troubled life in the foster care system, that is
until the boxing legend’s wife Anne (Phylicia Rashad) rescued the lad to
help him make something of the life he had ahead of him.
Flashfoward to the present and Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) appears
to be a college educated man with a solid 9 to 5 job.
There’s one problem, though: he hates his white-collar existence
with a passion. He's also a chip off of his daddy's old block and wants to be a fighter.
not working, Adonis fights low-paying bouts in Mexico to hone his fighting
skills (and to ensure that his identity as Apollo’s son is kept under
wraps). Realizing that he
needs better tutelage to become a fighter that would stand far apart from
his legendary father, Adonis heads to Philadelphia to seek out Rocky
(Stallone), who’s now completely alone in the world (both his wife
Adrian and brother-in-law Paulie have passed on and his son Robert has
moved to Canada). Initially,
Rocky steadfastly, but politely refuses to train Adonis, seeing as his
time in the sport has long since passed him.
Yet, Adonis breaks down Rocky’s guard and the aging boxing legend
decides to train his new young protégé for an upcoming bout with English
champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow) who – like Apollo Creed
before him – wants to give a young unknown up-and-comer a chance of a
lifetime. While Adonis learns
the ropes from his new mentor, he develops an attraction to an attractive neighbor
Bianca (Tessa Thompson) that’s a struggling singer/songwriter.
in CREED breaks the ROCKY mold. All
of the obligatory series elements that we are all familiar with are here:
The down-on-his-luck boxer, the reluctant mentor, the woman that becomes
an emotional anchor for the fighter, the training montages, the climatic
big fight against an insurmountable opponent that will allow the hero to
finally claim some semblance of self-respect.
CREED is, if anything, slavish to the manipulative ROCKY
conventions of old. Yet,
Coogler wisely understands that the mold is one that’s ripe for usage
and re-interpretation under a new character focal point.
All of the themes that made ROCKY such a rewarding and inviting
film 40 years ago for viewers appear in CREED – love, honor, loyalty,
being true to yourself – but Coogler is smarter than to go for outright
mimicry. His film is a love
letter to ROCKY mythology and lore, but it uses it as a template to tell a
new story set within it. It
respects the past films while confidently forging on ahead with its own
is also assured enough to understand that the first ROCKY film was at its
strongest when it came to character dynamics and not in-ring action and
mayhem. Like the relationship
between Rocky and Mickey, CREED cements itself in the Adonis/Rocky
partnership as one of mutual appreciation and respect.
Their union becomes one of a surrogate father/son relationship:
Adonis seeks out Rocky not only as a trainer, but as a father figures that
he never had growing up. Rocky
eventually warms over to Adonis, seeing as his deceased friend’s child
becomes a new son to him in his life when his own offspring has long since
departed and left him. Part
of the inherent sadness of CREED is how broken down by life the once
emotionally and physically powerful Rocky has become.
He was once a Herculean figure in this series that fought not only
for his livelihood, but also for his family's overall well being. Now, and rather heartbreakingly, Rocky has no family.
He’s old, sick, broken down, and has no one to fight for.
CREED may be Adonis’ story of redemption, but it’s also a chronicle of
Rocky’s struggles with relevance as well.
has played Rocky so many times at so many stages of his career that we
often overlook how damn good he is in the role.
Rather wisely, Stallone has passed on the ROCKY creative torch to
Coogler, which consequently allows him to focus more on the
performance aspects of CREED. This version of Rocky, as mentioned, is in stark contrast to
nearly every other past iteration of the character, and Stallone subtly
reveals that he still has tricks up his sleeve to make Rocky a continued
character of interest. The
rundown Rocky here is a tender and emotional one, and Stallone is as good
as he’s ever been in the role for nailing the nuances of a man whose
life is slowly winding down to an inevitable and somewhat depressing end.
He’s paired so remarkably well with Michael B. Jordan (he
previously gave an Oscar worthy turn working with Coogler in FRUITVALE
STATION) and he manages to portray Creed not as a carbon copy of his
father, but rather as a confident, yet anxiety plagued young man that
desperately tries to forge a singular identity.
Jordan makes his Creed a figure of snarling intensity and one of
wounded, lifelong vulnerability, which only makes CREED feel all the more
dramatically urgent and enthralling.
course, CREED has its share of boxing sequences, and Coogler displays what
a singular filmmaker maestro he is at trying to visually create a sense
of newfound dynamism in sequences that have literally been done to death
in countless films beforehand. A
mid-film boxing match – featuring an early, yet crucial fight between
Creed and another young boxer – is handled with what appears to be one
long skillfully orchestrated take that allows for the fight to have a
startling “you are there” immediacy.
The final bout in the film between Creed and Conlan goes for a less
flashy approach, but Coogler deserves serious props for framing the blood
spewing, bone crunching fisticuffs with a fluid editorial clarity.
Lesser filmmakers these days would have chopped up such sequences
into shaky-cam, headache inducing bursts of action, but Coogler is an inordinately
shrewd director to know that generating tension doesn’t require
eye-training visual gimmicks. It's been a long time since boxing
sequences in a movie have felt as robustly alive as they do here.
I thought that 2006’s better than expected ROCKY BALBOA was an effective and touching swan song for the title character. The astounding thing about CREED is that it still manages to provide for a completely worthy and highly involving continuation of what should have been a tired and dead series. Coogler has brought the Rocky Balboa saga to the next logical narrative beat and in the process has dexterously crafted arguably the finest entry in this franchise since the original film. There’s a moment in CREED where Adonis and Rocky journey up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum, a trip that the latter did time and time again during his boxing career. Withered, blue faced, trembling, and out of breath, Rocky can barely make it up, but his protégée encourages him to push forward, find whatever he’s got left in the tank, and slowly make it to the top. The scene is a perfect encapsulation of CREED as a whole: It has no business being as good as it is, but somehow…someway…it audaciously defies odds and perseveres to emerge at the upper echelon of ROCKY films.