Read Latozane’s review of Creed!
What happens when you take a 40 year old franchise that has gone from intimate character drama, to campy, over exaggerated machismo, to ultra patriotic guilty pleasure, and just about every level of quality in between and bring it back down to the characters? You get a fantastic mixture of past and present, but a story that is all eternal. The attention to the details, and not trying to completely reinvent the wheel, instead refining it beautifully, is what sets Creed apart from what could be, and is structured as, a very formulaic movie that hits on many points that past Rocky movies have, all while making them feel new and refreshing. I won’t devolve to going so cheesy as to say, LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE as a segue, but you get the jist.
Summary: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is someone that has his guard always up. Bouncing from group home and juvie, he finds himself always ready to fight. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) comes to the juvie hall that Adonis is at to see him, and try to convince him to come home with her. Mary Anne is the widow to fighter Apollo Creed, who was killed by the dastardly Ivan Drago in Rocky 4. Adonis is actually Apollo’s son from an affair, and Mary Anne wants to take him in as her own. Out of poverty and into a lavish lifestyle, Adonis, now an adult, is shunned locally since people know who his father was and his upbringing. All he wants to do is fight, like his father, but for reasons all his own. That’s when he travels to Philadelphia to meet with Apollo’s greatest rival and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
Pros: After a rocky (not intentional, I promise) start, the movie kicks into high gear once Adonis makes his way to Philadelphia. First and foremost, let me say that Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are magic in the movie. Jordan is able to play Adonis with such defense and yet vulnerability, and charismatic, yet retreated, adding so much depth to his character. This isn’t just a cocky fighter, or someone just trying to prove people wrong. Adonis is a conflicted human, that has true reactions to things. When he loses his temper, it’s not justified, but it’s realistic. I think that cannot be stated enough, that he is emotionally written and acted with such skill. The organic emotionality throughout this film is something to love. Adonis’ final reveal as to why he wants to fight is simplistic, and yet hits like a ton of bricks. Stallone needs more of this kind of film in his life. A caricature for most of his career with his movie choices, this role in this movie shows what he can do. There’s true emotion here. I think Rocky 1 showed he could portray an insecure, humble man that wants to prove to himself he can go the distance, Rocky Balboa (2006) showed he could portray an honest, true older man who didn’t know he was still looking for one last chance, one more moment in the sun that he lived in for so long. This movie shows even more facets to this man, this character, and it’s great to see. I’d say get this man an Oscar nomination. It’s, slightly surprisingly, that good. Tessa Thompson, who plays the love interest to Adonis, Bianca, is great as well. She’s written and portrayed as a strong independent woman, not as someone needing a relationship for validation or insecurities. Their relationship is displayed as something made out of true love and adoration, but still flawed, as all relationships are. The cinematography and directing is off the charts. Ryan Coogler really deserves attention after the 1, 2 punch of Fruitvale Station and Creed. Both films are expertly crafted. Philadelphia is filmed as a living, breathing character in this film, not just as a backdrop in which the story happens. The training montages, which show plenty of downfalls, not just successes, are wonderfully done. The fights themselves are mesmerizing, and hard hitting as well. The moments when Adonis gets knocked down during fights are truly a sight to behold. I loved that this film wasn’t written to start a franchise, but just as a separate entity, a branching off of the Rocky saga. When approached not as a cash grab or forced to be styled where it can continue indefinitely, the opportunities are open to more risks, most of which pay off. If this so happens to be the last entry in the entire series, it most certainly goes out on a high, both as a new installment, and as honoring the past. If I’m ranking all of the Rocky’s, just for poops and giggles, I’d rank them, best to worst, Creed,1,6,4(guilty pleasure, for sure),3,2,5. Creed and Rocky 1 would probably be tied, but right at this moment, I’d say Creed wins.
Cons: I think the nods to the past are a bit much, especially the “running through the streets of Philly” scene. The idea that Rocky would sign off on Adonis fighting the #1 fighter in the boxing world is a bit of a stretch when he’s only seen Adonis actually fight once. I want to point out a con, but don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’ll say is “eyebrows”. The beginning of the film, as I stated earlier, is a bit of a mixed bag, causing some early concerns while I watched.
Conclusion: I always had high hopes for this film, mainly due to who was working on it, but to see the final product is something else entirely. We get the intimate character development of the first Rocky, with the hard hitting excitement of Rocky 3 and 4. With the sure-handed writing and direction of Coogler, and the characters being brought to life so beautifully, this film is transformed from just a formulaic “fighting for love and glory” film into something much greater. Something that makes you see and feel real emotion. That’s more than you should be able to ask for from an almost 40 year old franchise.