Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallon, Tessa Thompson
Who knew the continuation of a franchise that rose and fell so suddenly could be so surprisingly brilliant? Picking up the pieces of the Rocky spectacular that came before it, Ryan Coogler's inspiring and touching Creed is the kind of gut punch the once-loved film series needed.
Making it easy to pretend most of the Rocky sequels never happened, Creed introduces us to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), a rough-around-the-edges kid who was spared a hard life, thanks to the wife of his biological father, the late Apollo Creed. A kid who never knew true love or sacrifice until it was almost too late, Johnson grows into a respectable, hard-working man by day and a prized fighter by night. When his love for the ring outweighs his career growth, he ditches the life he knows in Hollywood for the gritty streets of Philadelphia, and the guidance of his father's longtime friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). With training montages, slick dialogue, and a few emotional tugs, Johnson finds himself in the match of a lifetime.
When Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the definition of a hero was changed. That same inspiring emotional connection develops in true form in Creed. Over the past few decades, the power of Rocky's triumphs became more action-fodder than esteemed film content. Luckily, director Coogler takes the same principles present in each new version of the same fighting story and gives it an honesty that the franchise has been lacking. Despite having an aged Balboa, Creed could almost stand alone.
The true triumph for the entire film is Jordan's star-making performance. Nothing about Adonis Johnson is anything but raw. His choices seem level-headed, if reserved, due to his past. When a love interest enters the fray, played smartly by Tessa Thompson, Johnson stays driven and focused, more than ever before. While his fights in the ring could be interpreted as money and fame grabs, there's a constant line of personal anguish that holds it all together. It's as if Johnson is constantly battling his past self. And, this only works with a completely stripped away, devoted performance by Jordan.
Almost equally as captivating is Stallone, returning to his roots of gentle giant stardom. Balboa has aged and so has Stallone. Without playing up the leading man hijinks, Stallone allows himself to be the intelligent, experience figurehead. This suits him well. It's been many years since anyone would agree that Stallone was ever this fragile, in a good way. There's already plenty of Oscar building, deservedly.
Creed isn't the type of movie that seems to market itself as an awards darling, which is a shame. It's proof that a much-beloved story can continue, without being hokey. Too bad previous filmmakers couldn't figure out a way to get this done. The Rocky franchise is so riddled with poor filmmaking mistakes that it's no wonder this new entry leaves the most famous name in boxing on the floor. This has potential to be a quiet and surprising award season champion.
Gritty and filmed with an artful eye, Creed is a boxing movie that allows its characters to be more important than the physicality of the Big Match. But, when we enter the third act, it's as edge-of-your-seat as any nail-biting sports film could be.
Runtime: 133 minutes