When I originally heard about Creed, I thought it represented one trip too many to the well of the Rocky legacy. Rocky Balboa, the sixth film, was a powerful, heartfelt film that book-ended the Rocky series with a quiet, but sweet note.
Do we really need a movie about the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed following in his father’s footsteps?
Yes, dammit, we do!
The film begins with a young Adonis Johnson in juvenile detention. After a fight, he’s locked up in a cell. He is visited by a woman, who Adonis, along with the audience, learn is Mary Ann Creed, the widow of Apollo Creed. Creed, we learn, had an affair, got Adonis’ mother pregnant, and then died in his match with Ivan Drago before Adonis’ birth. Mary Ann takes young Adonis into her home. Adonis grows up, but finds life in a nine-to-five office job to be unsatisfying.
He leaves his cozy home in Los Angeles and moves to Philadelphia. It is there he tracks down Rocky Balboa, asking him to train him. Balboa politely refuses, but Adonis is persistent. Eventually, Rocky, who seems to have given up on life after the death of his wife Adrian and his brother-in-law Paulie, begins training the young man.
Creed is about fighting for what you want in life. Adonis is fighting a life of privilege that his father’s name gives him. He struggles to become a fighter on his own terms, without the Creed name attached. Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Fantastic Four) shines in his portrayal of Adonis. He’s likable, even when he acts like a jerk. He’s flawed, yet has a determination to succeed.
Rocky Balboa has his struggles too, with Stallone giving an Oscar-worthy performance as an old fighter ready to give up on life. Stallone knows this character and it shows. There are scenes where the sadness in Rocky’s eyes betray the tough-guy exterior. And the movie focuses much of its time on the developing relationship between Rocky and Adonis. Rocky is not simply shoehorned into the script to make it a Rocky film.
The supporting cast is excellent. Tessa Thomson plays Bianca, Adonis’ downstairs neighbor, who plays her music too loud. She is Adonis’ Adrian, but a much more assertive, confident woman. She too has a fight in her life as she is progressively losing her hearing, which makes being a musician a challenge.
And then there’s Phylicia Rashad. She only has a few scene in the movie as Mary Ann Creed, but it’s great to see her again so many decades after The Cosby Show. She too fights with her feelings over Adonis entering the boxing ring, fearing the loss of another loved one.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) brings a strong visual style with a focus on the characters. Coogler knows there are aspects of the Rocky movies that work, and he brings those to the forefront, adding his own ideas to the mix. The film’s runtime is 133, minutes. It felt much shorter. Coogler knows when to give his characters some breathing room to grow and when to have some action.
Because, honestly, I really enjoyed these characters, in and out of the ring. I cared about Adonis’ struggle. I wanted to see Rocky get out of his funk. I wanted to see Adonis and Bianca grow as a couple. By the fight at the end of the film, I was fully invested in the lives of these people. Creed is excellent, better than it had any right to be.
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