How do you extend the Rocky franchise without coming up with some convoluted scheme to get Rocky back into the ring? Creed, that’s how. But, is this spinoff/relaunch any good?
Creed, from Director Ryan Coogler, focuses on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of late, great boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). He has a rough and tumble life until he is taken in by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) at a young age. However, fighting is in his blood and he feels compelled to follow in his father’s footsteps—except the dying in the ring part, I’d think. He travels to the hard streets of Philadelphia to look up his father’s friend and rival Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), hoping the legendary fighter will train him. Rocky is reluctant, thinking that boxing is not what Apollo would have wanted for his son, but Adonis is persistent and Rocky eventually gives in. Along the way, Adonis strikes up a relationship with his neighbor, musician Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Through a series of convoluted and unbelievable events, Adonis finds himself in a bout against the champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Will the kid defeat the champ?
Essentially, Creed is a lot like Jurassic World—a spinoff of a beloved franchise designed to continue the world the characters inhabit. As Jurassic World was Jurassic Park for 2015, Creed is Rocky 2015—almost to a tee. The film covers all the same beats as the original film and that’s not a knock against Creed, because the film is a good reimagining of Rocky. This doesn’t feel like a cheap knock off like, say, Southpaw thanks to Coogler. The director also wrote the film’s story and does a great job of keeping the focus on Adonis, while telling a Rocky story on the side. Rest assured, though, this is not a Rocky film. The Italian Stallion plays a crucial role and his side story is poignant, but this is Adonis’ film. Coogler also does a fine job with the boxing scenes. While the content of the final fight will make you think that Adonis and Conlan are superhuman with the number of punches they take, the fights are expertly filmed. Creed also does a masterful job at playing on the audience’s nostalgia for the Rocky films. There’s one point in the final fight that will have the hearts of all Rocky fans swelling.
My only beef with the film, aside from the fact that there is no real new way to tell a boxing story, is that the beginning of the film feels a little rushed. The events that unfold prior to Adonis showing up in Philly happen at lightning speed and I almost thought that Coogler should have started the film in Philly with the audience having no idea who Adonis really is. Also, as is the case in a lot of boxing films, the fights are a little unbelievable. Not saying that these guys don’t know how to take punches, but the best defense usually isn’t letting the other guy hit you in the face. Although the fights are hard-hitting and visceral, they are also embellished for Hollywood. Like I said, there’s no real new way to do these movies.
The cast is excellent here. Jordan gives another stellar performance and despite the flop that was Fantastic Four—in no way because of him—he’s destined to be a superstar. He’s a likable lead and you won’t find yourself missing Rocky at all when Adonis steps into the ring. He draws the audience in and when he finally reveals why he’s fighting, you may get a little misty. Stallone is also amazing as the older and wiser Rocky. He gives Adonis advice about life and boxing, but will find by the film’s end that he still has some learning to do himself. Thompson is solid as Bianca and adds a lot to the proceedings. I wouldn’t say she’s as crucial as Adrian (Talia Shire) was to the original Rocky, but she fits seamlessly into the story. And it was great to see Phylicia Rashad again!
Overall, Creed is not only a worthy successor to Rocky, but also a great start to something new if the studio decides to continue with Adonis’ story. The beginning is a little rushed and a lot of the old boxing film tropes—some of which were invented by Rocky—are all here, but Ryan Coogler and his cast do a great job at making it all feel fresh and relevant.