With a loving look to the past and a confident glance towards the future, Creed is a triumphant entry in the Rocky franchise.
Boxing may be a dying sport in the mainstream, but 2015 provided two outstanding boxing movies. I was a big fan of Southpaw (Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet), the Antoine Fuqua directed drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which was one of my favorite films this year. Creed surpasses it on every level, which is more of a testament to its greatness not any deficiency on Southpaw’s part.
Michael B. Jordan reunites with his Fruitvale Station [Blu-ray]
director/writer Ryan Coogler to tell the story of Adonis “Donny” Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s greatest rival and close friend.
Initially I was a bit taken aback with this decision. It seemed to needless tarnish the legacy of one of the most beloved characters in the franchise just for the sake of a potential spin-off, but it works.
While he has thrived in the business world, Donny’s real passion is fighting. A free night for him is an opportunity to travel to Mexico for a fight or study YouTube clips to mimic Apollo’s fighting style. Though his step-mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) is horrified of the thought of Donny meeting the same fate as his father in the ring, Donny leaves the plush lifestyle in L.A. to travel to Philly to fully dedicate himself to boxing.
After the grief Jordan took for starring in that abysmal Fantastic Four, it’s great to see him in a role that makes full use of his award-nomination worthy talents. Jordan is such an engaged performer that he fully gets into his characters to delve into what makes them tick.
With Donny, he’s got a thoughtful, complex character with a short fuse, but hungry for respect and validation. Jordon delivers one of the year’s best performances that hopefully won’t be ignored this time.
I’m calling it now that the Jordan/Coogler pairing will be the next great actor/director collaboration like Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks or Leonardio DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese that should be in award consideration whenever they come together on a project.
Coogler teamed with debuting screenwriter Aaron Covington on the script, which tackles familiar themes without stumbling into cliches of Donny being angry and miserable at the world because his father died.
After some convincing, Donny soon makes some connections — first with his singer/songwriter neighbor Bianca (a terrific Tessa Thompson, Selma [Blu-ray]), who has a more involved story line than just the doting girlfriend. Secondly, Donny finally gets Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to agree to help train him.
As word leaks of this new contender, Donny is skyrocketed to a shot against the undefeated champion ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (actual pro boxer Tony “Bomber” Bellew).
Surpassing his work in the underrated Rocky Balboa [Blu-ray], Stallone slowly backs away from center stage in a classy, graceful way. Rocky fans won’t feel cheated in seeing their hero abruptly being phased out of his franchise, but rather evolving to the natural next step for the character.
In many ways, Creed is the successful transition Rocky V attempted in moving Rocky from fighter to mentor. It’s weird to consider Stallone as a revelation since he was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for the first film, but I didn’t think he had it in him or really needed to have a performance so compelling and emotional. There’s a strong groundswell for Stallone to be heavily vying for a Best Supporting Oscar that would be totally justified. And if Stallone won, it wouldn’t be an upset either.
The film isn’t so beholden to the past that it can’t bring a contemporary slant to the series from the modern soundtrack featuring The Roots, Nas and Meek Mill to the inspired take of the signature run through the Philly streets.
Even with underwhelming boxing scenes, the film would still be entertaining, but Coogler has a unique shooting style that is both mesmerizing and hard-hitting. The extended long take shot in Donny’s first fight is more than enough for Coogler to be in the Best Director conversation.
Cinematographer Maryse Alberti, using her experience from The Wrestler, captures the grand ambiance of a boxing match leading to some beautiful shots.
Everything comes together so perfectly for Creed. The acting, writing, script, music, tone, etc. This is one of those rare boxing movies you could take someone who hates the sport and they’d be just as appreciative as a longtime fan. In 2015, Creed fully establishes itself as a top contender for best film of the year. I’m already waiting on any and all news on Creed 2.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Entertainment
Catch up on the Rocky series
Rocky: Heavyweight Collection (Rocky / Rocky II / Rocky III / Rocky IV / Rocky V / Rocky Balboa) [Blu-ray]