Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: January 15th
Early in Creed, the seventh instalment of the Rocky franchise, Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordon), an aspiring light heavyweight boxer and the son of Apollo Creed, projects a fight between his father and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) on to a wall in his house. Adonis watches for a moment then walks over to the projected image and begins to mimic himself into the fight, shadowing Rocky as he starts throwing punches at his father. It is an image that showcases the main themes of Creed, of legacy’s and father/son relationships, and it also serves as a statement by co-writer/director Ryan Coogler of what he sets out to do, that is to make a film that takes the Rocky series and all the history that is behind it, but to pass the torch to a new character. It is a risky idea to shift the focus of a much-loved series away from its main star to a different character, but fortunately it is a risk that pays off and then some.
Adonis’ journey in Creed is not too dissimilar to the one that Rocky took in his first outing, it being about a underdog boxer who gets an opportunity to have the title fight he has always dreamed of, but they are some subtle differences. For one thing, apart from a rough childhood as an orphan following the death of his mother and being bounced around foster homes and juvenile hall for several years before being adopted by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Adonis was the result of an affair Apollo had before his death), Adonis lives a comfortable white-collar life, working an office job in a insurance firm and living in a gated community.
The shadow of his father still hangs over him however. His aspirations of becoming a boxer like his father has only amounted to participating in a couple of behind closed doors fights in Mexico, so he quits his job and travels from LA to Philadelphia to try and convince Rocky to become his trainer. While reluctant at first, Rocky eventually agrees and after gaining some press after winning a fight with an up and coming boxer, Adonis gets the chance to fight the boxing champ, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan.
One of the running ideas throughout is that of legacy and the effects it has on those who are stuck in it. Adonis may be different from a lot of the other boxers seen in the film, in that he doesn’t need to box in order to escape a hard life as he has already had his opportunity to escape, but he feels the need to box in order to escape from his father’s shadow and to make it on his own. It is notable that he doesn’t box under the name Creed but as Johnson. It is only in his fight against Conlan that goes by the name Creed and that is purely to drive up interest in the fight.
It is easy to compare the struggles of what Adonis is going through to that of director Coogler in taking the opportunity to rejuvenate the Rocky series. Creed could have, in fact probably should have been a disaster, just another example of Hollywood bleeding a franchise dry. What Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington do is to maintain a fine balance between the old and the new, while at the same time insuring that Creed doesn’t just work as a Rocky film, but also as a Ryan Coogler film. While it does feature some throwbacks to the original, with perhaps just one training montage too many, the primary focus is on the characters and particularly the relationship between Adonis and Rocky.
What makes this relationship so affecting is due in large part to the acting of both Stallone and Jordan. With his take on a Rocky dealing with his own mortality, Stallone delivers his best performance in years, probably since 1997’s Copland. It serves as a welcome reminder of his talents in front of the camera; a fact that usually gets lost after decades of mindless, though occasionally enjoyable, action romps. Jordan is even more impressive, showcasing the attention to detail to character that he showed his previous collaboration with Coogler, the underrated Fruitvale Station. Jordan is blessed with effortless charisma and natural screen presence, and it is used here perfectly, drawing us into the character with ease and allowing us to easily understand and sympathise with him.
With its engaging performances and some impressive stylistic touches, the most notable being a two round boxing match shot in a single continuous shot, Creed is a welcome addition to the long running franchise. Still, it is by no means perfect, there are perhaps just a few too many throwbacks to the originals and a romantic sub-plot with Adonis and his singer neighbour Bianca (Tessa Thompson) feels a little bit tacked on. Creed may offer no real surprises in terms of its story, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in good old fashioned entertainment and is all the better for it.