Every bit the worthy successor to the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed” (opening in theaters nationwide Nov. 25) is an elegant passing of the torch and a rousing flick that inspires. It honors the “Rocky” legacy while establishing a blistering and raw direction for the series – this is a film that feels familiar and new.
In short: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, leaves his Los Angeles life behind to begin training in Philadelphia, under the reluctant guidance of Creed’s longtime rival Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). (watch the trailer)
All due credit goes to writer-director Ryan Coogler (director of the acclaimed “Fruitvale Station”) – he balances the internal conflict within Adonis, gives Rocky a surprisingly rich character arch and crafts some of the best boxing sequences ever filmed for a movie.
Yes this is a boxing film and a “Rocky” movie, but like so many of the great films, “Creed” is fundamentally a story of identity. Adonis is a compelling character brought to life by the brilliant Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”). He is a smart and charming young man who can flip a switch and morph into a focused beast in the ring. Adonis combines Apollo’s charm and agility with Rocky’s hunger and unrelenting drive. He is an amalgam of so many dichotomies – but his journey is simple: to establish his own identity as a boxer, without the baggage of the Creed name. Coogler & Jordan have created a character just as compelling as Rocky Balboa.
The boxing matches in “Creed” demand recognition. Adonis’s first major bout is remarkable for one simple reason: the fight has no edits. The camera tracks every second of the fight and does not cut away for even a moment. The audience is dropped right in the ring with Adonis for a visceral and gritty few rounds of boxing. This intimate first battle effectively shows off Adonis’s technically precise and fierce fighting style – while also offering a better-than-front-row seat look into the intensity of a 2-minute round of boxing.
While this is definitely Adonis Johnson’s story, it wouldn’t be a “Rocky” spin-off without old Rocky Balboa himself. First and foremost, Stallone deserves Best Supporting Actor consideration for his most dynamic and layered portrayal of Balboa yet. The old boxer doesn’t just pop-up to pass the torch to Adonis – Rocky Balboa is just as compelling as Adonis Johnson. “Creed” is the culmination of all the story line before it – Rocky is the beloved hero of Philadelphia, but he is a lonely, elderly man who lost his wife to cancer (prior to the sixth film), his best friend Paulie has died since the last movie and he continues to be wracked with guilt over not stopping the fight that ultimately killed Apollo Creed (“Rocky IV”). Rocky’s journey itself could have been its own great film – and Stallone adds a melancholy pathos to his awkward, lovable and inspiring iconic cinematic hero. If “Creed” is indeed the last film to feature Rocky Balboa, then Coogler gave the legendary character a beautiful and heroic send-off.
“Creed” is a lean, mean boxing film – but it isn’t without a little fat that could have been trimmed. At times, “Creed” loses some momentum and energy as it possibly indulges the romantic angle between Adonis and local singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) a little bit too long at times. It’s not overly excessive – but trimming back some of this non-essential side plot could have focused “Creed” into a razor-sharp film.
Admittedly, this film does pretty much follow the “Rocky” formula. While “Creed” might not bring anything new to the franchise in terms of overall formula, it brilliantly executes the inspiring and entertaining “Rocky” formula.
Final verdict: This is not simply “another ‘Rocky’ movie.” “Creed” represents an exciting rejuvenation of the series that retains the franchise’s underdog theme, shifts focus to an intriguing new hero while acknowledging all the “Rocky” films before it. This may be the best “Rocky” film since the first one.
“Creed” has a running time of 132 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. This film opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25.