I remember seeing Rocky when I was very young, and it made a huge impression on me. It’s done the same to so many people, making it the cultural phenomenon that it has become. Even the subpar sequels have their fans. And just when it looked like Stallone has given the character his farewell with the vastly underappreciated 2006 film, Rocky Balboa, it looks like the franchise has returned, but with a new twist. Director of the excellent debut film, Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler has been brought to helm the new film Creed.
Creed follows Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. Adonis has always found himself going from group home to group home and juvie in between, until he was taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) as a child. Like his father, there is a lot of fight in Adonis, and he focuses on boxing after leaving his office job. He turns to his father’s former-rival, turned-best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), in order to train him to be a fighter without having to live off his father’s legacy alone.
There have been many films in the past several years that attempt to bring back old properties and rejuvenate them for today’s moviegoing audience, and the results have been mixed to negative. This year is no different, we have had great ones like Mad Max: Fury Road and really bad ones like Vacation. Fortunately, Creed is closer to Mad Max: Fury Road in that respect. Creed is a legitimately great film. It’s a fantastic spiritual successor to Rocky and Rocky Balboa, continuing the somber, character-driven nature of those films but with a whole new character. As a Rocky fan, Creed really didn’t have to do much to get me on it’s good side. I was already sold on the idea when word about it first hit the web back in 2013. However, what makes Creed a miracle of a film is everything that Ryan Coogler and his co-writer, Aaron Covington, were able to bring to the film.
One thing I really liked was the metatextual layer. It’s a film about a character wanting to stand on his own without relying too much on his father’s legacy. With Creed, Coogler is trying to sell us a spin-off to a beloved franchise by shifting focus to a new character and making him just as compelling and interesting without having to rely too much on the Rocky character. It’s kind of a brilliant move on the filmmaker’s part, since it’s a clever way of keeping Creed in the underdog story roots of the franchise. And I’m for one glad that Creed isn’t yet another reference-fest of a film that liberally uses elements of the original films willy-nilly. Creed is admirably restrained in its callbacks, especially in terms of it’s music, you only hear the Rocky theme a few times and they’re mostly in the second half.
What makes Ryan Coogler such a great storyteller is that he’s very empathetic, he is able to tap into the core of basically every character you see onscreen with the littlest of details and it makes them stick with you. One example of this is with the character of Bianca (played by the always excellent, Tessa Thompson), who is a local Philly singer/songwriter. She happens to have progressive hearing loss, and uses special hearing aids. It’s a tiny detail that doesn’t factor into the plot at all, but it adds so much depth to the character with seemingly little effort. That’s the kind of filmmaker Ryan Coogler is, and in a way, it’s exactly what makes him perfect for doing a film like Creed. And he uses this lens to great effect when it comes to telling Adonis’ story. Adonis is an easy character to get wrong, but the filmmakers were able to express his frustration and arrogance in a way that doesn’t make him unlikable, it also helps when he’s portrayed by the very charismatic and effortlessly watchable Michael B Jordan.
Really, all the performances in Creed are strong. Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone have great chemistry and their rapport is very natural, often leading to some of the most amusing and some of the most emotional points of the film. Speaking of Stallone, while I can understand Creed being glossed over in many categories come next year’s Oscars, I think Stallone should easily be in consideration for Best Supporting Actor because he is that good. He was already that good with Rocky Balboa, but here, it’s undeniable how great his performance is. As I mentioned already, Tessa Thompson is very good as well. Phylicia Rashad is so good that I wished there was a bit more of her in the film. Her few scenes do give the “I shot all my stuff in two-to-three days” kind of feel, but she is good nonetheless. The rest of the supporting cast is solid. I am the tiniest bit disappointed in not seeing Geraldine Hughes return as Marie, but it’s no big deal.
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the Rocky films, Creed is still worth watching. It’s an expertly crafted crowd-pleaser that, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t rely too much on any inside knowledge on the franchise in order to follow the story. Even someone with the most basic Rocky knowledge based entirely off the film’s presence in pop culture will have no issues understanding the characters and the context of Creed. It’s a very emotional film as well. Not as colossally depressing as the first-half of Rocky Balboa, and definitely not a downer like Fruitvale Station. It’s a film that places the characters at their lowest so that when they rise up again, it’s effect on the audience is that much more powerful. My screening had multiple, audible gasps and cheers throughout the film, and they are always earned and never done through cheap techniques that would have been used by any lesser filmmaker.
I hesitate to call Creed a masterpiece just yet, but I will say that the film was everything I could have ever wanted and then some. It’s a film that could have gone so wrong in so many ways so easily, but the results show something that is genuine and inspired. It takes the smartest possible routes with the story it wants to tell and delivers in basically every way it needed to. Ryan Coogler cements himself as one of the best rising filmmakers working today, as he crafts an emotional, funny, compelling and uplifting film that is full of strong performances. Ludwig Göransson’s score and Maryse Alberti’s cinematography are top notch, adding a lot to the intimate nature of the film. Aside from maybe a few minutes trimmed off it’s 132 minute runtime, there’s really no problem that I had with the film. I loved Creed, and I don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t. It is the real deal and it shouldn’t be missed. Oh, and be sure to bring some tissues. 95 / 100