The previous installment to the Rocky franchise, Rocky Balboa came out almost ten years ago. The film was a success, as usual, mirroring Sly Stallone’s actual career to his alter ego, Rocky Balboa. Speculation started and before you know it, Stallone was back with a hot shot up and coming Director and star. Creed had a lot going for it and a lot saying, “Nope, not going to work.” So, how did it fair?
Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis ‘Donny’ Creed. Adonis is the illegitimate child to Apollo Creed, the world’s greatest boxer and rival/friend to Balboa. Creed lives his day to day as a financial employee, taking care of his step-mother and secretly beating his victims to a pulp in a Mexican Boxing ring. However, Adonis struggles life and finding meaning, often out shadowed by his Father’s unrivaled legacy. He decides to leave his job, move to Philadelphia and pursue a retired Balboa for help. Reluctant at first, Balboa agrees to train him and together they must face the number one, pound for pound champion in boxing.
Creed first and foremost is a sports movie with heavy dramatic influences. This is a multi-weaved story of a young man, desperate to get out of the limelight of his Father’s shadow, while ultimately facing the fact he never even knew his Father. Not only that, but Balboa himself is a torn man, one who has lost too much and has nothing really left to give. Both of these characters benefit of each other and grow together in a Father/Son symbiosis. This element is the primary focus of the film and by far, the best part.
Michael B. Jordan, the film’s star is pretty good here. Looking back on his previous films, this is probably his best work, with emotional depth and a wonderful physical transformation. However, Jordan’s charisma lacks from time to time, with some of his own scenes not really pushing forth the message he conveys. Thankfully, Sylvester Stallone picks up every loose piece and sells a hell of a performance. Surprisingly, this is one of the best male performances you will see all year. Stallone makes Rocky vulnerable, lovable but at the same time, a meat head we all grew to love in the previous films.
Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) writes and directs Creed. Not only is his writing pinpoint but his direction is nearly spotless. Traditional dialogue scenes have a nice flow that feels organic, with lines that never gets too cheesy or too street. His direction, primarily in the boxing sequences, is absolutely phenomenal. The first major boxing fight is one take, without stopping, for almost five consecutive minutes. Not only is it spectacular to watch but technically mind-blowing.
Creed, especially near the last third of the movie, feels as if the pacing is a bit off. Coogler has a counter-weight here, with the final boxing match, the climatic end of the film, being an unrelenting, brutal boxing match that is glorious. Each shot is aimed wide, allowing shots to land and blood to spurt. No quick cutting. No quick editing. Just letting the actors work in space and it works seamlessly.
Unfortunately, despite all the praise given for Creed, it isn’t a perfect movie (and no movie is). The Achilles Heel to the film is the weak romance sub-plot. The sub-plot takes up a decent amount of the film and despite it being a minimal driving force for Adonis. Plenty of times the story allowed for something different to unfold with the characters but unfortunately, Creed derived back to familiar story roots. It doesn’t break the movie but it adds another cog to a well oiled machine that didn’t need the help.
Creed is a wonderful underdog story, with an emotionally resonating story that’s driven by excellent main performances. Stallone deserves an Academy nod for his work and Coogler needs recognition for fantastic Direction. Heck, Michael B. Jordan gives a driving performance that allows Creed to re-sell nostalgia as something fresh and exciting, carrying the Rocky name with honor and pride.