Written by: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
The fights we face in life come in all shapes and sizes and transcends merely the physical sphere. Every day when we get up we have a battle to take on and we see both men in we follow in Creed stand up when called upon. While serving as an unneeded sequel, this film brings a layer of depth and emotional fortitude never seen before in the Rocky series of films.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) lives a life of privilege but wants to prove himself as a fighter, seeing as his father was the great Apollo Creed. With no options on the west coast to advance this dream, he heads to Philadelphia to hopefully be trained by a family friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
Overall as a series of films, the Rocky movies have suffered from having no depth in most of its sequels. While the first film had the heart and grit that allowed it to accrue its acclaim, they almost became parody after a while with some real duds at the end of its run. Trying to breathe new life into this struggling franchise set up the potential for disaster, but it proves bringing in a fresh new perspective is exactly what it needed. Through this new point of view, we get to look at both Rocky and Adonis with a different lens and it turns into a spectacular exploration of the different battles we fight and what it means to carry a name like Creed.
As many of the Rocky films have demonstrated, fighting in the ring typically does not become an option for those with brighter opportunities because of the toll it takes and the mentality needed to succeed. It explains why Rocky used it as his way of upward mobility. Adonis does not have this issue with him getting raised by Apollo’s wife and having a cushy finance job along with a new promotion. He seemingly has everything he needs in his life but the unquenchable desire he has to get in the ring begins to dig into Adonis and how he sees the surname of Creed impacting him. While being raised by Apollo’s wife, his birth came as a result of an affair Apollo had. Adonis lost his biological mother when young and Apollo’s fate gets shown in Rocky IV. His legitimacy of being a Creed comes into question and he battles with it internally for much of the film.
Having him connect with Rocky all the way in Philadelphia makes perfect sense and the execution of their meeting and training together works wonders because of the love the Italian Stallion had for Apollo. In this feature, we find Rocky in a similar place as his last appearance in Rocky Balboa, but he’s finally fulfilling Adrian’s wish of him no longer fighting, thankfully. He steps into the mentor role, which did not work out so well like in the abysmal Rocky V, but he gets an opportunity with Adonis. Even with Rocky’s name no longer being the headline, he battles with his own struggles in the film as well and allows him to give his greatest performance with this character. Stallone unquestionably knows this character inside and out, and with time he has fully harnessed how this man would age, which works out perfectly. The collaboration between Michael B. Jordan and Stallone works wonders as they play off each other and what the characters mean to one another.
Ryan Coogler steps up to co-write and direct this feature, which may be the greatest decision since Stallone wrote the first script. He brings a different energy to this story, as it focuses on an African-American man in Philadelphia. It expands from the side of Philadelphia we have always seen in the Rocky films with it not being a nearly completely white perspective. Coogler approached Stallone with the idea and thankfully so because he creates so many emotionally potent moments. He’s able to establish the chip on Adonis’s shoulder about his own identity and the guilt continually manifesting in the mind of Rocky for what occurred to Apollo. It creates some beautifully touching interactions between them because this journey has hurdles for each of them and the unity created brought a tear to my eye on occasion. Coogler also captures the fighting sequences with so much style, as we’re brought into the ring to feel each jab and uppercut. The camera follows each blow by exhibiting the athleticism of the actors taking on these roles and the importance each combination and dodge has in the outcome of the fight. Whether it be in the backroom fights in Tijuana or the grand stage in Goodison Park, this stands as an impressive directorial feat.
Coming fresh off his blistering feature film debut in Fruitvale Station, he takes the larger budget given to him and completely shines. He steps up and delivers the finest film in a very popular franchise, because of this new perspective. Coogler brings the underdog story, with similarities to the first one, to a new generation and does so with incredible style. You just have to watch the entrance to Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew) in the final fight to show we’re operating on a different level here visually. Coogler proves his ability to take on anything, especially with his unquestionable success in Black Panther. A special and filmmaker who has not put out anything below the standard of fantastic. Hard to imagine this level of excellence can be sustained but he continually refuses to put out anything remotely close to mediocre.
Every second of Creed seeks to prove its worthiness, much like the character himself. An outstanding achievement and a testament to how you can reach back into the well of a tired franchise and rejuvenate it in a matter superseding even the best ones. The emotional stakes reach an all-time high and we get to see Philadelphia through a different lens enriched by a tremendous score by Ludwig Göransson and a fierce soundtrack. One of the greatest boxing films ever made, especially with it having the constraints of six films coming before it.