Here we go again, right!? Another Rocky movie! This time around (that’s the seventh time) it is a bit different. The most obvious difference being the title, Creed. This is the first time in the series where the word ‘Rocky’ is not in the title; this is the first time Sylvester Stallone has not written an entry to the series; and this is also the first time someone named John G. Avildsen or Sylvester Stallone did not direct an entry. What all that really proves or means, I do not know, but what I do know is that Creed is the best film in the series since Rocky (1976) which won the Best Picture Oscar and also earned Stallone a Best Actor nomination (and Best Original Screenplay), and if the universe is fair, he will receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this surprising gem which is one of the year’s best films!
Although Creed is a continuation of the Rocky mythology, Rocky Balboa is not the focal point of the story. The main character instead is Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who was born after Apollo died in the ring (see Rocky IV). Adonis is young foster child when we first meet him, and is adopted by Apollo’s widow Mary Ann Creed out of an orphanage, who treats Adonis as if he is her son. Adonis is raised by Mary Ann in Los Angeles (the city where Apollo fought out of) in a beautiful home and grows up in to an intelligent upstanding man. By night we see him travel to Mexico taking part (and dominating) in non sanctioned boxing matches, and by day we see Adonis donned in a pressed shirt and tie in a nice office, turning down a promotion by resigning so he can chase his dream of being a boxer.
Adonis’ last name Johnson is his late (biological) mother’s name which he keeps maybe out of respect, but also because he wants to make a name for himself in the boxing world without being known as Apollo Creed’s son. So without his father’s name or his mother Mary Ann’s blessing, Adonis heads to Philadelphia to further distance himself from Apollo’s legacy and to seek out Rocky Balboa for training.
After he gets settled in to his new city, Adonis does indeed seek out Rocky at his tucked away restaurant on a small Philadelphia street. This is an important scene to the film because not only does it begin to establish the relationship on which the film’s plot will forge, but it also shows the subtle brash side of Adonis that is needed to complement a great fighter’s boxing ability. After a couple scenes where the Italian Stallion gives him the brush off, Rocky begins to slowly acclimate to the role of Adonis’ trainer. These scenes are handled with great care by director Ryan Coogler; he is in no rush to get to the fight scenes or training montages and instead allows for Rocky and Adonis’ relationship to blossom organically so that the audience may see and understand the love they have for one another and not love based on archetypal legend, which a lesser film may’ve done.
Coogler handles every scene with originality but also ties this new story to careful homage of yesteryear Rocky films: We hear mention of Paulie, Mick and Apollo; Rocky has Adonis chase a chicken; we get to see Phildelphia (which is a sort of character in this series); of course Adrian is etched in to the fabric of Rocky’s persona. My favorite of the homages is when Adonis is closing in on the last days of training for the film’s big fight and he is running through the streets of Philly with an alternative version of the original Rocky score. I assure you your goosebumps will have goosebumps when you watch this scene!!
Michael B. Jordan has been showing up in a lot of different kinds of movies these recent years including director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (which I have yet to see). In Creed he proves he can give a sharp dramatic turn while carrying the weight of a tremendous physical performance as well. I mentioned Stallone’s performance as being an Oscar worthy one and I have my fingers crossed this will happen. The Oscars are meant for discussion and fun and it would be SUPER fun to talk about Stallone earning a nomination for reprising the role that shot him to super stardom back in the mid 70s! Sure he is the same ol’ punchy (now former) boxer we have come to know and love, but this time around we get to see a side of him that is sweeter, and when we see his Rocky character face some personal adversity, it is with heartfelt eyes we watch him have to fight something (for once) without using his fists – this is by far one of the best performances of the year!***
We get to see Adonis compete in two (sanctioned) fights. It is strange to see Rocky in the corner for both of them, but we really enjoy watching Adonis do his thing in the squared circle this time around. One of the reasons for this is that the fight scenes are expertly filmed! One of the rounds I swear was shot as one continuous take and in real time. I honestly felt like I was getting hit by some of the right hooks! Sure some of the punches would kill someone in real life, but filmgoers are supposed to suspend disbelief which is easier to do when the film is a well made one… like this one!
All in all Creed is a modern day sports film masterpiece! It contains all of our favorite things we have come to expect in a sports movie and done with such care by Coogler that viewers will celebrate the cliches through which they would otherwise groan! Instead of groaning, I found myself (along with the rest of the theater) fist pumping and cheering during the fights and being moved by the actions and kind words of the characters. Should this be the last Rocky film, It is the perfect epitaph for this legendary series….
***Rocky gives a toast before a casual dinner in his dining room to Adonis and his girlfriend. The words are so simple and heartfelt and Stallone delivers them with such ease and grace, that if there is justice in the world, Stallone will earn that Oscar nomination!