I have been waiting for this movie for months and leading into the Thanksgiving holiday, I was primed and ready to see the Rocky legacy extended into the millennial era. I mean, as any fan of the franchise knows, Apollo Creed was a beast. Rocky I, II and III are classics for a reason and Apollo Creed featured heavily. So, the question is: how can a movie releasing decades later hope to contend with boxing greatness?
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to say — Creed delivers and then some. Adonis “Donny” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of Apollo Creed. Born out of an affair, he’s never met his father and instead bounces around from home to home after the death of his mother. After a series of events, he is taken in by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) and given shelter.
However, even with this change in luck – the weight of his father’s legacy still weighs heavy upon him. This boy was born to fight – matched from an undeniable chip on his shoulder. This, of course makes for an excellent setup for an underdog story.
After leaving his stable job to take up fighting fulltime, he heads to the training center in an effort to seek help from Tony Burton (Wood Harris), whose father was the one that trained Creed, Sr. Unfortunately, Creed, Jr. receives no love. His mouth writes checks that his body can’t cash yet, and he has his butt handed to him as a result.
Of course, that is to be expected. It’s a learning curve and still only the beginning of the movie.
Creed knows this too and realizes that in order to compete with the top dogs, he needs to pull in the big guns. So with that, he packs up his things and moves from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in order to court the now senior-looking, Rocky Balboa.
At first, Rocky doesn’t abide but after some decent pestering from Donny, Rocky takes him under his wing.
Although Rocky is firmly out of the fighting game, the scenes between Stallone and Jordan, wherein the youngster puts in his time with the champ, are electrifying. These sequences suck you in not only through their sheer physicality (boxing is intense), but also by the relationship between the two. You’ll be cheering them on, whether you’re aware of it or not.
One of the movie’s most carefully developed themes explores the ways in which people truly need each other. Creed is searching for a father figure, someone to be there for him unconditionally, and Rocky is looking for a sense of family. Those he once cared for have either moved on with their lives (his son) or passed away. These two need each other and while there are some bumps in the road (which, are to be expected), the duo always finds their way back to each other.
Stallone is magic here, slipping right back into the persona of Balboa like an old weathered shoe. You can immediately sense that old Rocky magic just underneath the surface. In fact, Creed may feature Stallone’s single best performance to date… in any film. Not to mention his impeccable comedic timing – I don’t really remember Rocky being this funny in the old movies but it works nicely here.
Jordan is intense but you can always sense that the bravado he broadcasts to the world is hiding the hurt man he is underneath. The jail scene orchestrates that perfectly without ever being over the top. You’ll hurt for Creed and the long-lost life he almost had, and also for the legacy he’s fighting so hard to build.
The love interest, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, is admittedly not central to Creed’s storyline, but her character does aid in providing some dramatic balance. Her character’s disability is an interesting and commendable choice, and never played up for sentimental effect. I am intrigued to see how her relationship with Adonis will play out in the sequels.
Ryan Coogler, the director responsible for Fruitvale Station (also starring Jordan) with the help of Maryse Alberti (the cinematographer for The Wrestler) has brought new life to an aging franchise and it works wonders. From the superimposed stats of all the boxers that come up against Creed to the various directorial flairs (close-ups, long takes and the use of hand-held), the fights themselves are brutal and intense. They draw you effortlessly into the world of boxing, even if you aren’t a fan.
Much like the immersive original film, you’ll feel like you’re fighting alongside Creed as he battles for his life and respect. You can almost smell the sweat in the air. Coogler’s mise-en-scène is rich, lending a sense of character to every sight and sound, from people to places (including the city of Philadelphia itself). That can be jarring for a movie that moves in the ways that Creed does, yet somehow it only adds to the overall package, delivering something that’s just a little bit more. It’s the perfect right hook stunner for this otherwise lackluster holiday weekend.