It’s hard to forget the iconic image of Apollo Creed dying, in the ring, at the hands of Ivan Drago. 30 years and two Rocky films later, Michael B Jordan and director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) team up to tell the story of Apollo Creed’s son in Creed.
Jordan plays Adonis Johnson Creed, the son of the world famous fighter. Although he never knew his father, Adonis has Creed blood in him and constantly got into fights a child. After being In and out of juvenile detention centers for fighting , he’s taken in by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad)) who helps turn his life around.
As an adult, Adonis still can’t stop his urge to fight. Even with a steady 9-5 job, he’s taking fights in Tijuana, Mexico and spends nights watching his dad’s old fights on YouTube. On the heels of a promotion at work, Adonis quits his job to box full time. He takes the money he’s scrounged up from amateur fights and moves to Philadelphia to pursue his dream.
In Philly, Adonis goes to Mighty Mick’s Gym in hopes of being trained. He’s also keeping the fact that he’s a Creed a secret and boxes under the name Johnson. It’s not long before Adonis seeks out Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), a friend of his late father, to help train him.
Adonis slowly wins over a very reluctant Rocky and the two begin training. Along the way, Adonis falls for his downstairs neighbor Bianca (Dear White People’s Tessa Thompson), a lovely young singer/songwriter who’s in her own fight against degenerative hearing loss.
Creed is blatantly as formulaic as the previous Rocky films. It all feels very familiar from the training montages, to the score, to the love story. Much like 1976’s Rocky, the boxing in Creed is secondary. The film is an underdog story. It’s a story about someone trying to find themselves and do the impossible. It has all the elements that made Rocky one of the best sports movies ever made.
The screenplay, penned by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, is what separates Creed from other films in its genre. For starters, the very intimate relationship between Adonis and Bianca, and the conversations they have, are very real. It helps that Tessa Thompson absolutely shines on the big screen. It also helps that her character isn’t just “Adonis’ girlfriend”; she has a life of her own. Bianca has more to do than be a stereotypical, the role most women are relegated to in these roles. She has her own ideas, her own passions in life, and is vocal about what she wants/doesn’t want.
The screenplay also shines during the Adonis/Rocky moments. The humor, the joy, and the hurt all come pouring out in those scenes. The relationship between the two transforms into a beautiful mentor/mentee relationship with lots of family elements mixed in. The story also doesn’t shy away from talking about what happened to Apollo in Rocky IV and it’s affect on them.
Mention of Rocky IV is also what sets the movie apart. It’s not just the mentioning of the film, it’s how Creed takes place in this alt-universe where everything is as we know it, except the Rocky movies happened in real life and not on screen. The film infuses real ESPN’s PTI and HBO’s 24/7 to legitimize the sports story.
If there was any doubt Michael B Jordan could be a leading man, now is time to bury that. It’s as if Fantastic Four never happened. Jordan is not only impressive during the boxing scenes; he’s believable as a hard headed young boxer who’s in over his head. He has a charisma that very few actors have and it’s on full display as Adonis.
The surprise for many in this film will by Sylvester Stallone. He gives his best performance since the first Rocky film. Not only is Creed a natural transition for Rocky, it’s feels even more natural for Stallone. He’s 69 years old. We no longer need to see him covered in baby oil shooting at terrorists. He’s much more believable as an old boxer who just wants to live his life, but can’t help himself after that boxing itch is scratched. Stallone’s best scene is when Rocky is confronted by Adonis about health pamphlets he found. Who knew Stallone could deliver such a powerful emotional scene.
Underneath all the boxing bravado, Creed is a powerful story about legacy and the things we’re willing to fight for. Ryan Coogler is a masterful director. The long tracking shoot that follows Adonis to the ring during the final fight looks like an artsy independent film someone made with a single camera. That shot is immediately followed by ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan’s (Tony Bellew) entrance that has a big box office look to it – complete with slow motion effects and a man blowing fire. Coogler’s ability to not just shoot both, but blend them in the same film is what makes him a master at his craft.
Creed is pound-for-pound, the best Rocky movie since the original. It breathed new life in the Rocky franchise and has everyone excited for a sequel.