Creed review – franchise reboot is a knockout

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.

creed-movie-2015-phylicia-rashad-michael-b-jordanWhile 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.

creed-movie-2015-michael-b-jordanWith 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.

CRD205_000084.tifAfter 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.

creed-movie-2015-rocky-adonisIn 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.

creed-movie-2015-michael-b-jordan-sylvester-stalloneEverything 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

Rocky blu ray box setCatch up on the Rocky series
Rocky: Heavyweight Collection (Rocky / Rocky II / Rocky III / Rocky IV / Rocky V / Rocky Balboa) [Blu-ray]

  • Martin Boren

    Just came across your site, Jeffrey, while looking at the various reviews for Creed. It won’t be my last time to visit the site. Great review, and you have a dandy writing style.

    Just one quick note: I’ve noticed that just about all of the critics who have reviewed the film have made mention of the scene where Donny is watching film of the 2nd Balboa-Creed fight and starts shadow boxing along with the film. The critics inevitably state that Donny was mimicking his father. Watch the scene again, Jeffrey. What you’ll see is that he is throwing Balboa’s punches AT HIS FATHER. Kind of his way, I think, of working out some anger toward his Dad.

    I think you’ll find that scene much more important (maybe even profound) when viewed with that perspective.

    What a great film. And you nailed it when you wrote this was Rocky V done right. No other critic has taken that angle. Great call. The best thing from all of this is that now I have a great young actor and a great young director to follow in the years to come. Next stop for me is Fruitvale Station, which I plan to watch in the very near future. And God bless Stallone, both for the incredible character(s) he created when I was just a child and this tremendous performance.

    Regards,

    Martin

  • Thank you so much Martin. Really appreciate the kind words.
    I kept trying to figure out if it was Donny fighting Rocky or Apollo. I got thrown off a bit as Rocky mentioned how Donny had some of his father’s moves.
    I highly recommend Fruitvale Station. Such a great and timely movie.
    Hope to hear from you again soon my friend!

  • Pierre V. Mooney

    Yep, I saw a couple trailers for “CREED”. I was taken as it did reminded me the first “ROCKY” in so many ways. A quality store line, with characters we care about and a level of complexity that keeps ones interested. It made me wish I was back in the STATES already. I am watching the DVD shop to see if it comes in. Great review it stirs my interest even more my friend. I am I the one who said there were not quality films out? (smile)

  • 49ersfan

    This movie was great. I really liked seeing two black females playing the roles in Donnie’s life as important supporters to him. The step mother rescued him but supported him even though he wasn’t her biological son. I really loved seeing that. I also liked seeing his girlfriend play a strong female that could handle following her own dreams. I liked how she supported his dreams but wasn’t a pushover either. It was nice to see the women in Donnie’s life as strong, down to earth and a big support to him like so many women today are for their sons, boyfriends, husbands etc. The whole movie was great. Perfect for a date night.

  • It definitely had strong female roles and I liked how they let Donny do his thing without doing the cliche thing of constantly being against him following his dreams. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  • Just found your article but saw the film on opening night. What can I say? The film was incredible. I am a certified Rocky fan but Creed was a wonderful step towards the future while graciously and respectfully giving props to the past. Michael B. Jordan was phenomenal and I think that this article correctly points out (and growing word on the street) that Stallone should receive an academy award for his portrayal of our aging hero.

    But the thing that truly gave me a wow moment? Not the fight scenes (which were incredible). Not even the director showing us that a movie about boxing could have style, grace and heart. It was that final moment at the end when Adonis is helping his mentor/friend/Uncle up the steps that he has ran up so many times before. Having an elderly Father who is in his winter years, I couldn’t help but feel the genuine emotion behind that.

    So yeah! Creed is a phenomenal movie and encourage anyone (boxing fan or not) to check it out and see a torch being passed on with love, dignity and most of all…respect.

    Kenny L. Mitchell

  • Thank you for writing in Kenny. Appreciate the thoughts. I really enjoyed this one and as a longtime fan of the franchise, was really pleased with how well it turned out.
    Hope to hear from you again soon!

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  • Chinigga Rônin

    Hi Jeffrey.

    Just saw the movie as it opens only now in France. I loved every part of it, from the beginning in juvie to the steps. Everyone is perfect in it, but this is definitely Coogler’s triumph. I loved Fruitvale Station but he somehow improved his skills on this movie.

    I think what I loved most about this movie was the rousing energy of every bit of it. The juvie scenes reminded me of the last appearance of Maestro Harrell in The Wire. The long shot during the first fight, every scene with Stallone, the sequence with the guys wheeling their way to the gym, everything was rousing. Coogler put some fire in this movie and he should get recognition for that.

    The cast was incredible. We all know that Jordan, Stallone and Thompson are great actors but they outdid themselves.

    I didn’t believe people who said “This is the best Rocky since the first one” as I see the sixth one as a melancholic masterpiece but I do now.

    Anyway, I agree with anything that you said and hope for a sequel.

    Keep up the good work, you are still read in France 🙂

  • Jeffrey Lyles

    Thank you much my friend.
    I agree with you. I was so impressed with Fruitvale and found myself amazed at how much further along Coogler’s come as a filmmaker already. It really had a dynamic sense of purpose and not just another chapter in a franchise just for the sake of making money.

    Really appreciate the kind words and hope to hear from you soon!

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