‘Creed (2015)’- Throwback Review

Anytime sports movies are part of the conversation, there’s always an l00% guarantee someone namedrops Rocky, and who wouldn’t? Everything presented in John G. Avildsen’s Oscar-winning film made it a true cinema classic, sedimenting itself as an underdog story everybody can relate to. Over decades later, nobody thought we’d be talking about a spin-off film without the Italian Stallone taking the leading role. However, with Creed, you want to talk about an ultimate knockout with a fresh installment in a franchise for a new generation to pay attention to in the genre. 

What’s the Story: Growing up, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has been out of the juvenile hall and foster care thanks to starting fights. Then one day, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) adopts him, telling him she’s the widow of his real-life father, the late boxing heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, one of the greatest boxers in the world who died before he was born. Years later, as an adult, Adonis wants to make a life for himself by becoming a professional boxer like his father, making it his own. To follow in his footsteps, Donnie quits his job and moves from Los Angeles to Philadelphia not only to train but to get in touch and be trained by Apollo’s former rival and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who eventually teaches him under his wing and gets him into shape to take a shot at the title.

Everybody loved the original without question when it came to the franchise before this came out. The sequels varied from very good to whatever Rocky V tried to be and failed beyond level. But it was hard to know why anyone wouldn’t be interested in a drama about the son of Creed. We also thought 2006’s Rocky Balboa would be a sequel that’s too little, too late, only to be one of the most surprising installments nine years prior. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw it on opening day with my uncle and cousin the night before Thanksgiving. But, walking out, I knew it was possible for Creed to be the best film in the franchise since the first since it’s fantastic through and through nearly a decade later.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise when director/co-writer Ryan Coogler decided to make this his sophomore effort following his breakout directorial debut Fruitvale Station, one of my favorites of 2013 that stayed with me after leaving the theater and was the first of many collaborations with Jordan. You can tell that he’s been watching each of the previous installments to take inspiration that crosses that independent film feeling he previously experienced with a blockbuster with a modest budget to work off of. Someone like him is a perfect choice considering his father introduced him to the series growing up, especially after watching Rocky II repeatedly and finding Apollo his favorite character. It does go out of its way to tribute what came before, but while it follows the basic formula we’ve come to be used to by now with each film, Coogler, along with co-writer Aaron Covington, made this work by having the characters and story stay realistic and grounded as possible for longtime fans of what’s being handed to us on screen. And what’s important is he takes the best elements of the better Rocky movies into this made it his own. So not everything here is all about boxing but it contains the focus on building the characters up when they need to be supported.

Everybody knew Michael B. Jordan’s name after an incredible performance as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station, yet this pushed his name and career even forward, gratefully took all the building of his character, Adonis that you care about this journey we’re following along, wanting him to gain his strength into becoming a person not be in the shadow of his father and craving a path to who he really want to become. He is terrific in his physical and emotional traits walls that make him understand captivating in and out of the ring and what drives him to fight. 

The relationship between Jordan and Tessa Thompson as his love interest Bianca, a singer with progressive hearing loss, is well developed and sweet, so easy to compare to how Rocky and Adreine started at the beginning of their love. And this was the first time I ever took notice of Thompson, and this made me look forward to seeing her in anything.

And this can’t have Jordan with Sylvester Stallone. His involvement with this boosted much confidence since this was the first time stepping back into his most iconic role since 2006. Usually, he can be a good actor when he’s given good writing, but I hoped he’d single-handedly provided his best performances, and I wasn’t disappointed. Because we’re now seeing Rocky in a time where he’s not only getting older; he’s done with his boxing days, and everyone he cared for died, especially Adrian and losing Paulie years back. With Adonis in the picture, he’s still has this guilt for not telling Apollo to throw in the towel during his match with Ivan Drago. He made me wish he had done more dramatic work and not taken part being a part in action movies failing to make a profit at the box office. What’s really different is that he didn’t write or direct this in the franchise as he did with four of them back then. Instead, there was passion in his role bringing into what we’ve always loved about him, and you can honestly see in his eyes that he genuinely cares about returning to one of the greatest movie characters of all time.

Unlike the relationship between Rocky and Tommy Morrison in the fifth, there’s such a tremendous father-son dynamic carried throughout that’s is the heart of what made Creed not fall to its knees in embarrassment. Both of them create this unexpected family who needs each other to overcome their battles when Adonis never had a dad growing up. And Rocky hasn’t talked to his son much since he moved, transitioning from a fighter to a believable mentor.

There aren’t many of the boxing scenes here since I believe there were just four, but you feel the intensity of them all, still providing the gritty style that’s stayed connected. There’s even a boxing match between Adonis and Leo “The Lion” Sporino that’s made to look like it was one in a four-minute one-take, and it was pretty awesome. Nothing but admiration with the choreography and Maryse Alberti’s cinematography to capture it all. Usually, I’m a sucker for a good boxing film outside the franchise like The FighterCinderella Man, etc. and nothing gets your adrenaline pumping when two guys trading blows. You get so into any scene involving training and montages, making it feel like you’re working out with Jordan, which is a plus. And I have to mention the music by Ludwig Göransson because you’re going to need a modern score to almost rival what Bill Conti composed with the iconic theme, and Göransson nailed it with the track that will guarantee goosebumps and fists pumps while listening “If I Fight, You Fight.”

As a fan, there shouldn’t be a reason to dislike this. There isn’t a single person I know who didn’t love it and had it somewhere in their top 10 best of the year; it’s definitely in my top five. However, this is one of a few great films that was robbed of getting multiple nominations at the Academy Awards that season. It should’ve been up for Best Picture and Best Actor for Jordan. Stallone’s performance, however, was deservedly recognized everywhere, winning accolades for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. In addition, he earned his second acting Oscar nomination, the sixth actor to receive a nomination for playing the same role. Everyone, including me, thought he was going to win. But, instead, to everyone’s shock that evening, Mark Rylance took the prize for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Was I upset? Yes, but it would’ve been one of the best Oscar wins to make up for an underwhelming awards season.

Creed standouts not only as a crowd-pleasing sports drama that stands on its own, but it’s undoubtedly outstanding, bringing the Rocky legacy back to its greatness. A huge victory in one of the best ways to revive a franchise, it featured excellent filmmaking from Coogler, outstanding performances from Jordan and Stallone that had us rooting for them, and a compelling tale. Remember in the first where he was training, and he was running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art? That’s the perfect representation of how perfect this was.

Grade: [A]

Creed was released in theaters on November 25, 2015| Runtime: 133 Minutes| Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality| Studios: MGM Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures/ New Line Cinema

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