Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenwriters: Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Phylicia Rashad
The first Rocky film premiered in December of 1976 and went on to be nominated for 10 Oscars, winning three including Best Picture. Several sequels of varying quality would follow and now nearly 39 years to the day of the original’s release, we have the seventh and latest film in the series, Creed.
Unlike the previous films, Creed is not so much a sequel as maybe a “spin-off.” A product of the foster system and juvenile corrections, Adonis “Donny” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) spent his youth unaware that he was the illegitimate son of world champion boxer Apollo Creed. When the late Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) manages to track down Donny, she adopts him with the hopes of removing the chip on his shoulder and giving him the opportunity and life that he deserved. As young Adonis grows up, he becomes fixated on the famous matches between his father and Rocky Balboa, sometimes shadowboxing to the projected image of his father’s classic fights. As the resentment towards Apollo grows, so does the fight inside of him. As much as he wants to please Mary Anne, Adonis cannot ignore the desire to make a name for himself in the ring, a name separate from his newly appointed surname, Creed. With that, Adonis packs his bags for South Philadelphia and under the name Donny Johnson, he tracks down famed fighter and rival to Apollo, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in the hopes that Balboa will train him to be a professional fighter.
Rocky’s still hanging at Adrian’s, the restaurant he built and runs in honor of his late wife who passed away ten years earlier. The eye of the tiger is more or less a thing of the past as Balboa leads a relatively calm and simple existence. Adonis’s appearance complicates things for the ex-champ, and once Johnson reveals who he is, Rocky can’t refuse training the son of his old rival and friend. With the help of Rocky, Adonis catches the attention of the world light heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), who is being forced into retirement by an impending seven-year prison sentence and looking for one final challenger before hanging up his gloves for good. Much like in the original film in the franchise, a young up-and-comer is selected by an established champ to face off in a battle for glory, legacy, self-respect, and in this case identity.
Writer/Director Ryan Coogler’s Creed is outstandingly successful both creatively and technically. Jordan showed great skill in Coogler’s previous film, Fruitvale Station, and here he takes another step forward. His performance puts Adonis Creed’s drive, determination, and principles all on full display and allows a real connection to emerge between the character and the audience. This punctuated by Stallone’s transformation from fighter to mentor creates the most character driven film in the series since the original and of 2015 so far. The introduction of Bernice (Tessa Thompson) as Adonis’s love interest is also very well crafted, allowing her character to build as one with her own hopes, dreams, and individuality, not as simply a corner girl/leg-weakener for her man.
The film is also technically impressive. Rocky films have to deliver in the ring but that can be difficult to do seven films in. However, Coogler manages to shoot at least one of the most notable fight scenes the genre has ever seen using a steady-cam to capture a multi-round fight seemingly in one shot with exquisite choreography. Other fight scenes in the film are also drenched with intensity, but the extended shot sequence is remarkable.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, films about sports are as old as the modern screen narrative gets. It seems most movie fans have a favorite sports movie (Rocky may be it!), even people who hate sports. The reason for this is that a great sports movie is often not really about the game. A great sports movie is about life, passion, talent, and determination. Creed is a perfect example of this. I expect we’ll see Michael B. Jordan donning the red, white, and blue trunks again soon. A-
Creed is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.