I’ll be honest. When I heard that Hollywood was making “Creed,” I assumed it was yet another greed machine idea to squeeze out whatever life and money were left in the well-loved Rocky franchise.
Boy, was I wrong.
Well, not totally wrong. I’m sure Hollywood was looking to make some money, but I had no idea that the end product would be this good.
“Creed” is the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate child of Apollo, who was killed by Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” The mood is established in the opening scene: Adonis gets into trouble in juvie, proving that despite never meeting his father, he’s a fighter just like him.
Adopted and raised by Creed’s wife (a welcome comeback for Phylicia Rashad, who’s famous for playing a perfect mother), Adonis grows up never in need. He lives in a mansion and has a well-paying job. And yet, he’s hungry. He takes on underground bouts in Mexico just to feed that urge to fight. He’s raw. Untrained. In need of a father figure that he’s never had.
Enter Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). He still lives modestly in Philadelphia, running a restaurant named after his beloved Adrian. He’s content, but the passing of both Adrian and her brother Paulie has left a huge hole in his heart. When Adonis shows up and asks for training, Rocky is reluctant, convinced that he’s done with boxing. But Adonis is persistent and Rocky can’t deny that he possesses a lot of the same qualities as his late father.
Thus begins one of the most heartwarming cinematic relationships of 2015. “Creed” is a throwback to the original “Rocky” film, which wasn’t really about boxing. It was about a man who needed to prove something to himself. This time, it’s both Adonis and Rocky who have something to prove and the journey they take together is beautiful. Fans who long for the over-the-top, polished pugilism of “Rocky III” and “Rocky IV” may be disappointed: “Creed” focuses on heart rather than hits.
Which is not to say that the boxing action is lacking. Not at all. In fact, the first fight is a technically amazing achievement, with the entire bout shot in what appears to be one long take. I sat in awe of how the cast and crew were able to pull that off. And as in any “Rocky” film, the training montages will motivate you to get off your couch and get moving.
Director Ryan Coogler and Jordan teamed together in the remarkable “Fruitvale Station”; with “Creed,” both are destined for even more stardom. Coogler proves that he can take on a big budget studio film, and Jordan continues to exude charisma and likability.
But the true star is Stallone. While he’s been spoofed countless times for his low, slow line delivery, the man can act. (Need proof? Watch “Copland” where he holds his own against De Niro and Keitel.) In “Creed” Stallone takes it to another level, playing the retired fighter in a way that’s sympathetic yet not soft. I wouldn’t be surprised if this performance garners him some award recognition.
“Creed” is one of my favorite films of the year. If it does well at the box office it will undoubtedly lead to more films. If so, I can’t wait.