Creed (2015)

6 Dec

creed

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

2015 has had its share of reboots, with the majestic uprising of “Mad Max” and the tragic downward spiral that was “Fan4stic.” Now comes the return of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century: Rocky Balboa. Originally brought to life by writer-actor Sylvester Stallone in 1976, his first film, “Rocky,” was the “little film that could,” beating the odds with audiences and critics and even going on to achieve the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, the film’s sequels have been hit-and-miss, but the truth was the power of the original film could never be matched…until now.

29 years since the original film and nine years since the decent fifth sequel, “Rocky Balboa” (released 16 years after the disastrous “Rocky V”), filmmaker Ryan Coogler (whose previous film was the great 2013 drama “Fruitvale Station”) has brought Rocky back to life in the seventh (and possibly last) entry in the franchise: “Creed.” Only this time, Rocky (Stallone, of course) is not the boxer training for a fight; instead, he’s the trainer for a champion-in-the-making, a 28-year-old boxer named Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), who happens to be the son of Rocky’s late opponent-turned-friend Apollo Creed.

Times have certainly changed since 1976 and we have to see Rocky the way he is now rather than what he used to be. We may always remember him as the underdog who came close to beating one of the world’s greatest boxers, but that’s not who he is anymore. He doesn’t throw a punch in the whole movie. His body is failing him and his loved ones are no more (either dead or moved on in life). He owns a restaurant (called Adrian’s, named after his late wife) to make ends meet and possibly to distract himself away from the sport. Things change when Adonis shows up in his restaurant, looking for him.

Adonis was the product of an affair with Apollo Creed and abandoned by his mother. He’s been in foster homes and juvenile halls until Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), takes him in. Over a decade later, Adonis works for a financial firm in Los Angeles while secretly fighting in brutal Tijuana matches on weekends. But despite Mary Anne treating with the proper education and looking out for him, Adonis prefers to fight due to anger and resentment built up inside him. He quits his job and decides to move to Philadelphia to make a name for himself as a professional fighter (and not with the name “Creed,” as to not be cast in his father’s shadow) where he hopes he can find Rocky Balboa and persuade him into training him. It takes a while ton convince him once he introduces himself to Rocky, but soon enough, he does decide to train Adonis for bigger fights with ranked opponents. But when it becomes revealed to the media who Adonis really is, he is forced to face a tougher challenge: prove everyone that he is who he is and not who his father he never even knew was. He and Rocky figure the best way to show that is to train hard and go up against a seemingly indestructible champion: “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), a British brute who wants one last fight before he goes to prison.

Oh, but that’s not all. I know that sounds strange, but “Creed” is actually full of story. It manages to sneak in a sweet romance between Adonis and a pretty neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who is a musician about to go deaf; scenes of pathos such as when Rocky confesses how he’s given up on life now that his wife and friends are long gone; and even a subplot involving Rocky’s deteriorating health and whether or not Rocky wants to get treatment for it. All of these elements come together so well, creating a solid tale of life, strength, companionship, and self-respect, with appealing, well-rounded characters and an emotionally involving story. It was a heavy responsibility on Coogler’s part to bring back familiar elements from the previous “Rocky” films while making the film his own at the same time, and he pulls it off successfully. There are also some neat references and in-jokes going back to the other films, as well as a wonderful moment that brings Rocky back on top of the steps at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (There’s even a final answer as to who won Rocky and Apollo’s private third match behind closed doors at the end of “Rocky III.”) Coogler brings a unique style to the franchise that makes it a welcome return to greatness, including an impressive sequence midway through the film that shows a boxing match inside the ring done in one entire take. It’s like Coogler knew we saw the typical “Rocky” formula and visual style, and so he decided to change things up a bit for purposes of tension and proximity.

Michael B. Jordan is one of my favorite actors working today and delivers a terrific performance, handling himself effectively in dramatic scenes as well as in the ring. Stallone, who is often mocked for his one-note depictions, turns in some of his best work here, bringing sincerity and loneliness to the new side of Rocky Balboa.

I truly do believe “Creed” is a great film; the best “Rocky” film since the original. Yes, it’s a boxing movie and we get the feeling who the winner’s going to be in the final round. But like the original film, it’s about so much more than boxing. The performances are strong, the characters are well-developed, the fights are well-staged, the dramatic scenes are handled terrifically with quietness and subtlety, the Rocky/Adonis relationship is engaging, the rousing training montages are suitably cheerful, and I truly admire the bold move on Coogler’s part to truly go down the road and assume accurately where Rocky’s life is now compared to where it was back in 1976. I think it’s safe to say that it’s the sequel to “Rocky” we’ve all been waiting for.

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