By Christian DiMartino
When I first heard about Creed, a Rocky spin-off, I was of course curious, but yet skeptical. Then when the rave reviews poured in, it gained my excitement. After seeing it, there is one thing that must be said: Believe the hype.
But I am not going to just keep it to “one thing,” as many great things can be said about this 7th entry in the Rocky saga. Finding a starting point will be difficult. I am currently on a film high, and shaking it off will not be easy.
This series has been all over the map. The original (and best) won the Best Picture Oscar, and put its star Sylvester Stallone on the map, and with good reason. It was a wonderful film, both perfectly acted and undeniably inspiring. Then came the sequels. Rocky II-IV are hugely enjoyable. Then things went ker-plunk with Rocky V, a film that even Stallone hates. This appeared to be the end of the series… until Stallone jumped back into the ring with Rocky Balboa, which was a fitting end to the saga. That was, until Creed arrived.
Creed is one of those rare, magical sequels in which it never feels like it was made for money. Sure, that could have been the goal, but director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and his cast make it seem otherwise. This is almost like a love-letter to the original Rocky, and part of its genius is that it while it of course relies on nostalgia, it also feels like a perfect standalone entry.
Basically, if the name “Apollo Creed” or “Rocky Balboa” has never crossed your mind, you have no business showing up to this film. But I am a kind soul, so I will fill you in.
The first two films revolved around Rocky (Stallone) fighting Apollo (Carl Weathers). In the third film, they became friends after Rocky’s trainer, Mickey (the late Burgess Meredith) passed on. With the fourth chapter, things came to a tragic end when Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) killed Apollo in the ring.
The film opens in 1998, where we find young Adonis Johnson living in a juvenile center (he tends to fight the other kids… wonder where he gets it from?). Soon after, he meets a woman named Mary (Phylicia Rashad), who tells Adonis that she was married to his late father, Apollo (Adonis is the love child of a woman that Apollo had an affair with).
Flash forward to present day, and we find older Adonis (Michael B. Jordan, surprisingly strong in the role) trying to begin his boxing career (he avoids using his father’s name because he wants to make it on his own). Where better to begin it than Philadelphia, the home of the legendary Rocky Balboa? Knowing Balboa and Creed’s past, Adonis decides to find Rocky (still played by Stallone, who is easily in better shape than I am) and asks him to train him.
Plenty of elements of the original are in play: the strong trainer/fighter relationship, the love story (Adonis has the hots for an up-and-coming musician named Bianca, played wonderfully by Tessa Thompson), the training montages, the great score, and so on.
Usually by the 4th film, a series begins running out of steam, and to some, this one did. However, with Creed, Coogler and Co. breathe fresh, new life into this 39 year old franchise. I have enjoyed plenty of the sequels to come along since the original, but probably none as much as this one (sorry Clubber and Ivan).
Part of what made Rocky the character so lovable was the fact that he was the underdog, but yet he had a giant heart, and even 39 years later, Stallone still keeps that heart beating. This just might be his best performance since the original film, and I am rooting for him to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (again, rooting for the underdog). This is a different approach to the character we have cherished all these years, and Stallone breathes so much fire into this role still, his devotion to this series isn’t simply something to shake off. It’s a wonderful, tragic piece of work. He will probably contend in the supporting category, but hell, he is just as much the leading man as Jordan is.
Jordan, an actor that I have never minded but yet never been blown away by, is surprising excellent here. Jordan and Thompson might not quite be the couple that Stallone and Talia Shire were, but they do have noticeable chemistry.
As for that final fight, whew, it’s a doozy. My friends and I leaned forward in anticipation. If these films had anything to fall back on, it was the intense fight, and the fight between Adonis and this giant Irish gorilla named Conlon is nerve-racking and, well, badass.
You will tear up during Creed, and you will smile, in more ways than one. It’s a great addition to this long-running series, and I hope that the Academy can see it in their cold, pretentious hearts to give Stallone and company the recognition necessary. This is one of the year’s best films.