Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone
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“…manages to rise above its well-worn premise and deliver a film that is at once stylish, engaging and ultimately moving.”
Creed should be a disaster. The seventh (!) Rocky film in the wildly patchy, almost-40-year-old series sounds like a cynical cash grab: Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of famous boxer, Apollo (Carl Weathers from Rocky I–IV), and wants to prove his might in the ring, but on his own terms. Adonis has a massive chip on his shoulder, mainly about the fact that he is the product of Apollo’s extramarital affair, and refuses to use his famous father’s name. He does, however, want to be trained by the best and Rocky Balboa, now very retired and living a quiet life in Philadelphia, fits the bill.
In lesser hands Creed could have been a tepid soft reboot, endemic of everything wrong with current blockbuster filmmaking. The fact that it’s one of the better films of 2015 is due to the exceptional team of director, Ryan Coogler and actor, Michael B. Jordan. The pair previously collaborated in Coogler’s critically lauded Fruitvale Station and their stellar work continues here. Jordan manages to make Adonis a character with depth, petulant and violent, but also surprisingly soulful and genuinely passionate about boxing. Coogler’s roaming camera showcases Jordan’s impressive physicality, with exciting, kinetic sequences like a midpoint boxing match shot in one electrifying take.
That’s not to take away from Sylvester Stallone, who gives an understated performance, rich with pathos, but the fact that this is the first Rocky film without “Rocky” in the title is telling. Sly knows to get out of rising star Jordan’s way and in doing so gives us his best work in years.
Creed is, ultimately a simple story. If you’ve seen Rocky films, or other boxing movies, you can predict the basic beats. Yes, there will be a training montage and a stirring speech and various setbacks along the way. However, Creed manages to rise above its well-worn premise and deliver a film that is at once stylish, engaging and ultimately moving. In a series whose low point hadRocky punch the shit out of Soviet Russia, that’s a profoundly unexpected and deeply impressive feat.