“Creed” Movie Review


     With the exception of the fifth installment, the “Rocky” series has always been a crowd pleasing and inspirational story as its title character proved time and time again one can succeed despite seemingly insurmountable odds.  In many ways, it became relatively easy for people to relate to Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic persona, not so much because of the boxing storyline, but rather instead because of his memorable courtship of Adrian and his undeniable blue collar mentality.  After all, most Americans can resonate with a character whose relationships are imperfect or whose work ethic inspires others to work harder.  While a lot will made of the fact the seventh film in the franchise, “Creed”, structures its story in nearly the same way as the original did in 1976, I don’t see it as an issue in terms of originality.  After all, “Creed” isn’t ripping off another film franchise, it’s just utilizing the same tried and true formula that catapulted the original to a Best Picture win.  In other words, what’s old is new again.

     “Creed” tells the story of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of the late Heavyweight Boxing Champion Apollo Creed, who was born shortly after his father’s death in the fourth film, “Rocky 4”.  Adonis becomes well aware of his father’s past following an important scene at the beginning in which we see a younger Adonis moving in and out of foster care with frequent stops in juvenile hall, the latest incident being a knock down drag out fight in a juvenile facility that results in him being confined away from the other kids.  And then Adonis gets a very important visitor.  Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) explains to Adonis who his father was and offers to take him in, which obviously has a profound effect on his life since the next time we see him, it’s present day and he’s just been promoted at the financial firm he works at as an adult.  Of course, there are other aspects of his late father’s influence at play as well.

     Adonis spends his weekends in Tijuana boxing in underground non sanctioned promotions, which provide him the ability to fight secretly since Mary Anne has made it clear she does not support the sport after what happened to Apollo.  Even the Los Angeles gym that is named after his father turns him away when he communicates his desire to turn pro and begin training officially.  In a great early scene, Adonis pleads with head trainer Tony Burton (Wood Harris in a  reunion between fellow “The Wire” alums) to begin training him and even steps in the ring and knocks out a high level prospect to prove his worth.  One of the best points Tony makes to him is the fact the fighters he trains are boxing in order to survive and put food on their table, something Adonis hasn’t had to deal with in years because of his known financial security. This argument is easily proven if you simply pay attention to what Adonis is wearing in every scene.  High end Jordan retro basketball shoes, each of which would cost well over $200 and the accompanying gear, including a well over $500 Kobe jacket, tells me Adonis isn’t wondering whether or not he’ll have enough money to keep a roof over his head, unlike many of the fighters in the gym. Of course, things don’t end well for the youngster when one of the top light heavyweights in the world steps into the gym and observes the young Creed’s tirade only to effectively put him in his place.

     With no where to turn, Adonis decides to quit his comfortable white collar job, leave the sprawling mansion he lives in with Mary Anne, and head to Philadelphia in order to seek out none other than Rocky Balboa.  Stallone easily has given his best performance here since 1997’s “Copland” and the last installment in this series, 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”.  Because of the history we already know from watching the series, Rocky has become an incredibly well developed character who has aged right before our eyes.  In “Creed”, like the previous film, he continues to deal with loss as we already know Adrian died of cancer and now Pauly has also passed away, leaving him alone and unsure where the rest of his life will take him.  Stallone plays Rocky with the sense of a battle tested warrior who is weary from all that life has thrown at him, and yet he still displays a quiet subtle confidence that has him primed to step into the same shoes occupied by his own trainer, Mickey, so many years before.

     After some minor prodding, Adonis convinces Rocky to train him, as Rocky is clearly impressed with both the young Creed’s historical knowledge of his career (particularly the closed door fight between Rocky and Apollo that took place at the close of “Rocky 3”), as well as his persistence.  This is where “Creed” really begins to excel as Coogler has written these characters with several front and center flaws that effectively ground the proceedings in a believable reality.  Instead of Rocky coasting through his first training gig without a scratch, he finds out he is suffering from a terrible illness that could cost him his life.  Even Adonis’ love interest, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), lives with a progressive hearing loss condition that could threaten her own budding career.  In other words, this is a “Rocky” film in which all of the key characters, as well as the one’s in the background, are dealing with the curveballs of life in addition to the pressure and dedication needed to succeed in the boxing world.  This in turn knocks the boxing sequences to second billing as we get to experience real relationships form and progress as the story makes its way to the final act.

     There are many positive things about “Creed”, but perhaps the most important decision the studio made was handing over the reigns to indie filmmaker Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”), a smart and effective move that clearly injected a new perspective on the characters, as well as a fresh style of filmmaking.  Coogler and his writing partner, Aaron Covington, have crafted a story whose roots were born from the original film, but whose various plot twists, dialogue, and characterization have a certain authenticity and realism that allow the film to stand on its own.  In addition, there are a number of shots that seem out of the norm, but add to the overall artistic nature of the film beautifully.  

     One of which is the sequence that features Adonis’ first official professional fight.  Coogler shoots the scene with one camera in the ring with the fighters and stays with one unedited take for the entire duration of the fight.  The perspective would mimic that of the referee’s or the third man in the ring and really puts the audience as close to the action as possible.  Also notable is the final training sequence Coogler stages just prior to the film’s climactic fight in which Adonis runs through the streets of Philadelphia as a group of teens on dirt bikes and ATVs follow and pop wheelies as he drives up one final hill where Rocky awaits.  It’s the kind of inspiring filmmaking that a fresh set of eyes on an age old franchise is normally capable of and no doubt will spawn its own sequels as Stallone and Coogler have found a highly entertaining way to pass the torch to a new generation.  “Creed” is neither parody, nor a reboot, standing completely on its own with outstanding performances from top to bottom.  There’s some powerful stuff here, as the filmmakers have skillfully acknowledged the built in nostalgia (Coogler uses the familiar “Gonna Fly Now” theme in one highly appropriate moment), while infusing literally every scene with their own original take on the material which results in one of the best films of the year. GRADE: A-