By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Creed, aka Rocky VII, reinvigorates a long running and popular movie franchise with an awesome story idea that finally acknowledges the age of its lead character Rocky Balboa and passes the torch to a proper heir. Rocky franchise producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler have also taken a chance on talented young writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) to take over writing/directing duties from Sylvester Stallone, the main creative mind behind the franchise. The result is a fantastic film fitting of the Rocky saga and one that has a style and rhythm of its own.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson Creed, the youngest child of the deceased boxing superstar Apollo Creed. The result of an extra-martital affair between Apollo and his mother, Adonis lives a rough early childhood, but is eventually taken in by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). After his adoption, Adonis gets all of the educational advantages that Creed’s estate can afford; however, a raw fighting instinct burns inside him. This desire to channel that fire compels him to pursue a career in his father’s footsteps. With his father deceased, the hungry young boxer seeks out the help of retired boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) for the training he badly needs.
Coogler, who c0-wrote with Aaron Covington, does an outstanding job with a chapter that acknowledges its roots, but then sets sail into new territory. Coogler and Covington develop the characters beautifully, especially the relationship between Rocky and Adonis. This heartfelt, onscreen relationship nearly mirrors that of Rocky and his deceased trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) in the older films, and has some touching and poignant moments of its own.
As a director, Coogler brings an urban sensibility to his work and has his unique, modern style in presenting the training and fight scenes. The director, his cinematographer Maryse Alberti, and editors Claudia Castello and Michael B. Shawver have created some superbly executed scenes that are both gorgeous and sometimes hypnotic. The score by Ludwig Goransson channels the established themes of Bill Conti (who scored Rockys I, II, III, V, Balboa) and is mixed with modern hip hop songs fitting for the Adonis Creed character.
I am not sure anyone else can portray Adonis Creed, because Michael B. Jordan delivers an exceptional performance in that role. He even has the right look to believably portray the son of Apollo. Sylvester Stallone, who obviously was born to play Rocky Balboa, delivers an awards-worthy performance as the much older, more mature, and nearly broken ex-boxer. Stallone’s acting in the film is some of the best I have ever seen from the actor, and perhaps is his best performance out of the entire franchise. I was also rather impressed with the performance of Tessa Thompson who stars as Bianca, Adonis’ love interest. The remainder of the supporting cast delivers solid work with no weak performances that I can recall.
If there is any weakness in the film that I can find, it probably has to do with a certain amount of predictability to the story’s structure. Most of the Rocky movies have a similar structure with a few differences. What makes this film refreshing, though, is that the filmmakers bring a genuine human vulnerability to the characters. This is an aspect that seems absent from some of the Rocky sequels, but makes the first film and the others great. Creed is a great Rocky sequel and possibly the start of a new spin-off franchise.