After the dignified, heartfelt Rocky Balboa allowed the character to have one last time in the spotlight and redemption for the ill-conceived Rocky V, there were seemingly few places left for the character to go, having gone the distance to prove that he was relevant and worthy of respect in his twilight years. Nine years later, the Rocky series has been revived in a most unexpected way and against the odds, Creed manages to take an unwieldy spin-off concept and not only blaze a path for a potential new franchise, but enriches and respects the films that came before.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world and one-time rival to the legendary champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Having never known the father who brought him into the world illegitimately and died having never met him, Adonis finds himself compelled to follow his father into the ring despite a lack of seasoning as a professional fighter. But with the help of Rocky Balboa himself, and a singer-songwriter who lives in his building (Tessa Thompson), Adonis just might have enough people in his corner to defeat his toughest opponents – himself, and the crushing legacy his father left behind.
That this film is one of the most emotionally satisfying of the year is testament to three people. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and leading man Michael B. Jordan have taken their experience making Fruitvale Station and managed to infuse Creed with that same intensity and respect for character that had led to the acclaim they both received for that earlier picture. Coogler’s direction is excellent: watch how the camera weaves and circles Adonis and his opponent during Adonis’ first Rocky-backed fight of the movie. Michael B. Jordan is a revelation as the conflicted, talented Adonis – a man who can’t quite decide whether he should embrace his heritage as a Creed, or if he’s even worthy of it. Jordan’s charisma helps to invest us in the journey of a character who’s not always approachable but one whose resilience and inner goodness win out in the end.
The final member of this triumvirate is Stallone himself as Balboa. Wisely declining to step back into the ring, Stallone should be commended for not only having faith in the Coogler-Jordan team but for having the restraint to let them do their thing and to make Creed their own movie. But what is most surprising and gratifying is the prominence with which Rocky appears throughout the movie. His appearance in Creed is not just some glorified cameo but an essential part of the narrative, as he wages his own private war outside the ring. Outwardly fine but a broken man on the inside, Rocky needs Adonis just as much as Adonis needs him, having lost not only his wife Adrian, but her brother and his best friend, Paulie. Wanting nothing more than to join them, Rocky finds a purpose and a sense of family in training Adonis and in doing so, Adonis becomes Rocky’s son just as much as Apollo’s. Though a solid performer in many of the previous installments of the series, this is possibly the most assured and sensitive performance of his career.
All in all, Creed manages to be the finest installment of the Rocky series since the first Rocky way back in 1976. Supported by a rousing, powerful score that references previous Rocky composer Bill Conti’s style without slavishly copying from it and smooth, restrained editing during the training montages, Creed manages to impress on a technical level as well. This one is all heart, but earns it, having created compelling characters and moments that are rich in sentiment, but never saccharine.
By Johnson Hii
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington (screenplay)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew
Runtime: 132 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: November 25 2015