The success of the Rocky series is an anomaly for anyone who hasn’t watched a Rocky movie (well…maybe to people who watched Rocky V). The character resonates so emotionally with audiences, that even 40 years later, a new film in the series can come out and people will get hyped for it.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, whose previous film Fruitvale Station was one of my favourites of 2014, Creed focuses on the illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed, who died in Rocky IV. Adopted by Apollo’s wife (now played by Phylicia Rashad), Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) turns away from his affluent lifestyle and steady job to try to make it as a boxer. He goes to Philadelphia to find his late father’s former boxing rival and friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (the legendary Sylvester Stallone). He agrees to train Adonis, despite going through issues of his own.
What I love about Creed is that it has a completely unique identity; it has the grit and the to-the-bone feel of the previous (great) Rocky films, but it balances that with a driven energy and modern tone. Creed isn’t trying to prove himself in the same way Rocky was in the first one; he came from a well-off background. He has certain baggage due to his father that he needs to resolve, as well as show that he can stand away from the man’s shadow. Essentially, the story is about stepping away from a shadow that hangs over your life, and our lead exemplifies that beautifully. Michael B. Jordan is incredible in the role, charming yet broken and was absolutely robbed an Oscar nod. Here’s hoping a bright future for the guy.
Creed is his own man with his own path, but that doesn’t stop the ghosts from the past from appearing. Eagle eye fans of the Rocky series will notice the constant references to the previous movies, from things like Rocky and Creed’s fight in Rocky III to the turtles. The biggest reminder is Rock himself, and Sly absolutely nails this performance. Thank God he was at least nominated, now go for the gold Sly! We’re all behind you. I could go into how great he is in the flick, but you already know if you’ve seen it. This is one of the toughest times for the Italian Stallion, so see the film if you wanna know if his legendary incorrigible spirit doesn't give up on him this time.
The directing makes it stand out too. Coogler has an amazing sense of energy and inter-connectivity; he connects all the story threads from the previous movie and this one and keeps everything moving at an entertaining pace. He has a very natural yet bombastic touch, tapping into that humanity while also making this feel like an epic story of a man proving to the world his fists can get him through an inescapable shadow. Ryan Coogler can capture the iconography of humanity. He’s one of the best directors working in the mainstream, and like Jordan is truly making his mark. Also the training montage is one of my favourites in the series, and I love how he shoots the boxing matches. You feel like you’re right there in the ring.
The first 10-20 minutes are a tad rushed (also terrible child actor), which made me think this was going to be woeful (thankfully I was wrong!). ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlon is another in the long line of forgettable Rocky villains. Donny’s girlfriend Bianca is given a lot of personality and charm, but she could have been fleshed out a tad more. Hopefully she will in the inevitable follow up (please?). Also Phylicia Rashad does such a great job as Donny’s foster mother that it’s a shame her part is shortchanged like it is.
These flaws are minor, because once the story gets going, it never ever stops until the ending with a certain iconic frame. Creed is a powerhouse of a film, taking the series’ heart and passion and packaging it for a new audience, with wonderful direction, a modern feel and tone and a new character we’ll be glad to follow. Jordan and Stallone are wonderful together, and let’s hope the new Rocky and Mickey can get back into that ring. I hear rumblings of a sequel, but nothing definitive yet! Wanna ring the bell?