PLOT: Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) – the illegitimate son of former champ Apollo Creed – travels to Philadelphia in order to train with his father's former nemesis-turned best friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
REVIEW: When I first heard director Ryan Coogler (FRUITVALE STATION) wanted to do a ROCKY-spin off focused on Apollo Creed's (memorably played by Carl Weathers) son, I figured this was way too good an idea to ever get made. Hollywood always reboots its big properties in the dumbest (or rather – simplest) ways and Coogler's approach sounded way too smart to ever get the greenlight. Luckily, I was way off and now, with the involvement of the great Sylvester Stallone himself, the ROCKY saga is continuing in a major way with CREED.
Coogler has spoken repeatedly about how the ROCKY saga was special to him and his father as he was growing up, and his love of the series shows. Carefully mixing the realism of FRUITVALE STATION with a more mainstream, big-budget approach, Coogler has made a film very much in-line with the original Rocky and one that looks almost sure to launch a whole series of films.
His FRUITVALE STATION star, Michael B. Jordan, really shines here as Adonis, who we learn was raised by the late Apollo’s wife (played by Phylicia Rashad) to be a kind of white-collar professional – but of course boxing’s in the blood and it’s not long before Adonis is sneaking off to fight. Needing guidance, he looks up his dad’s former opponent turned best friend Rocky, who’s now retired and doing the same thing he was last time we saw him in ROCKY BALBOA, managing an Italian eatery called Adrian’s – named after his beloved late wife.
One thing’s for sure, Sylvester Stallone would have never allowed CREED to happen were it not for Coogler’s talent, and his faith in the young director is rewarded. Stallone’s never been better than he has been playing Rocky, and there’s actually serious Oscar buzz surrounding his performance as the older, wiser Rocky – and that buzz is well-deserved. Stallone was born to play the part and his chemistry with Jordan is superb. You really get the sense that Rocky feels a sense of obligation to his friend’s son, but at the same time is so lonely after the death of Adrian that he really does need the young man as a surrogate son just as much as Adonis needs him as a father figure. It’s a testament to the power of the performances that the boxing becomes almost secondary, with the real heart of the film coming from their relationship.
However, CREED is still packed with boxing action – all of which is at least as impressive as anything in SOUTHPAW. One area CREED easily has it beat is the fact that Adonis is such a heroic figure – and an underdog you’ll always root for – just like Rocky himself. Tessa Thompson – from Dear White People – is excellent as Adonis’ love interest – and if she becomes a kind of Adrian figure that comes back in all the other movies (presuming there are some) – well, that would be great. Like Talia Shire's iconic Adrian, she radiates both intelligence and kindness, and Coogler's given her some interesting conflicts of her own, with her playing a budding singer dealing with the fact that she's gradually going deaf. Just like Creed and Rocky, she's a fighter in her own right. And of course, a ROCKY movie is always defined by its colorful villains, and Liverpool boxer Tony Bellew fits the bill quite well as champ Pretty Ricky Conlan – who wants to put a stop to any ideas that Creed’s got the blood of a champion running through him.
Special mention should be made of Ludwig Göransson’s amazing score – which blends a contemporary sound with some of Bill Conti’s original themes kicking-in at just the right moments – with the crowd I saw this with showing their approval with plenty of cheers. In fact, I can't remember the last time I attended a screening where an audience was so obviously into a film and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if CREED winds up being one of the sleeper hits of the year. Certainly, it's going to put Coogler and Jordan on the map in a big way, and hopefully the guys are going to keep the saga going as the is one of the most promising franchises to come along in quite some time.
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