Michael B. Jordan reunites with his Fruitvale Station writer/director Ryan Coogler for Creed, an emotionally satisfying, rousing new addition to the Rocky film franchise. Coogler co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Covington, taking a tried-and-true formula but then adding in surprisingly fresh elements that make Creed better than Rocky’s sequels as well as a cut above the typical inspirational sports movie fare.
Instead of sending Rocky back into the ring for one final fight, which at 69 would have been ridiculous for Sylvester Stallone to play (but crazier sequel ideas have been floated before by Hollywood), Creed focuses on a rising boxing star and places Rocky at his side as his mentor. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed who’s inherited his father’s skill in the ring. As a child he’s rescued by Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), from a life of foster homes and juvenile halls. As a young adult, Adonis goes against his mother’s wishes, gives up his white collar job in California, and moves to Philadelphia to follow his dreams – and follow in his father’s footsteps.
Creed reinvigorates the Rocky franchise while remaining true in both tone and spirit to the original film in a way that’s both engaging and satisfying. The film focuses primarily on the relationship between the wise old veteran of the ring and the up-and-coming young hotshot, but there’s enough room for a romantic relationship between Adonis and a beautiful singer with hearing problems, played wonderfully by Tessa Thompson. Everything about Creed feels genuine including the romantic relationship which plays out with a realistic amount of misunderstandings and make-ups.
Coogler earned the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature for his 2013 independent film, Fruitvale Station, as well as the National Board of Review’s Best Directorial Debut. The film also picked up awards at the Cannes Film Festival and from the Producers Guild of America. Creed might not seem the logical next step for Coogler, however it’s the perfect match of subject and filmmaker. Coogler has taken the right approach to the 40 year-old franchise, perfectly pacing the development of the mentor/student father/son relationship between Stallone’s Rocky and Jordan’s Adonis. It’s not rushed and instead is a gentle build that lends itself to wonderfully nuanced and touching performances by both Jordan and Stallone. In fact, Creed is Stallone’s second best film after Rocky. Immediately after the screening one of my fellow critics made a case for 1997’s Cop Land topping Creed, but I’m sticking with Creed over Cop Land due to the unusual amount of restraint Stallone shows in reprising this character he knows so well.
Coogler not only does a terrific job of establishing the relationship between Rocky and Adonis, he also does an outstanding job with the boxing scenes – not just the big fight you know is coming at the end of the film but also the scenes in the gym in which Rocky uses old-school methods to train Adonis who’s anxious for his big shot at a major fight. Just like the character, the audience is also aching for Adonis to get his opportunity at a big fight. But Coogler skillfully allows the story to evolve, building the tension in such a way that the audience is right there with Adonis in the tunnel as he takes that much anticipated walk to the ring.
Stallone, Jordan, Thompson, and Rashad all deliver first-rate performances in Creed, making this seventh film of the franchise an absolute must-see even for those who can’t recall what happened in any film of the series other than the original Rocky.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: November 25, 2015