Creed is something of a Hollywood miracle. The last decade of cinema has taught us the dangers of resurrecting once great franchises in hopes of earning big bucks off the injections of young blood into the narrative, but somehow this film works. Not only does it work, but it delivers some of the most thrilling movie moments of 2015, as well as an unforgettable performance from Sylvester Stallone in the role that made him a household name.
Born from an affair, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) did not know he was the son of Apollo Creed until after the loss of his mother. He was taken in by Creed’s widow, whom he would come to call Mom, and offered a life free of the struggles most people face in their day-to-day lives. Still, Adonis feels the call to fight, and he fears forever living in the shadow of his father if his true identity is made known to the general public.
Following a less-than-pleasant discussion with his mom regarding his goal of making a career in boxing, Adonis flees Los Angeles in search of a fresh start on the streets of Philadelphia. He seeks out his father’s best friend, Rocky Balboa, and talks him into returning to the ring once more, only this time in the form of a coach. Rocky teaches Adonis, who prefers to be called Donny, everything he knows while doing his best to make known the often harsh realities of life as a fighter. Donny understands the risk often outweighs the reward, but he cannot deny the fire in his stomach that calls him to fight.
There is also a love interest, played by the wonderful Tessa Thompson, who meets Donny shortly after his arrival in the city of brotherly love. Their initial encounter is one filled with disagreements, as are all great Hollywood romances, but eventually they each realize how important one is to the other. It’s a relationship not all that unlike Rocky and Adrian, complete with bursts of misguided aggression that threaten to undo everything good that has ever happened, but thanks to a strong script the turns never feel too familiar for their own good.
Director Ryan Coogler helped establish Michael B. Jordan’s career with his critically acclaimed film Fruitvale Station, and he manages to pull an even greater performance from the still-young actor with this film. Jordan has never been one to disappoint, even when faced with less than thrilling screenplays (Fantastic Four), but here he accepts the challenge of carrying one of the most beloved franchises of all time with a level of wit and dramatic expression that he has rarely shown before. He is every bit the star a franchise like Rocky needs, and by the end you find yourself anxiously awaiting the chance to see him enter the ring once more.
Sylvester Stallone, who was met with mixed reception when his written-and-directed contribution to the franchise, Rocky Balboa, was released in 2006, delivers a career-best performance in this film. The original Rocky may be the better picture overall, and his performance is incredibly thrilling in it, but here Stallone is able to convey just as much heart as he does strength in a storyline that he has never before tackled. Rocky, the hero of a generation, is now living the twilight of his life alone. He has lost hope in life ever being better than it is the day the he first meets Adonis, but soon he begins to find the will to fight all over again.
I won’t try and tell you the script is unpredictable because there are several points pulled almost directly from earlier franchise entries, but the screenplay from Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington works well enough keeps things feeling fresh throughout. There are numerous callbacks to earlier entries as well, but thankfully nothing is so on the nose it elicits a groan. Like all good reboot/franchise continuations, Creed plays like a love letter to the original Rocky films without coming across as a direct replica. The characters and story told in this film can stand on their own, and they will deliver a powerful dramatic punch to audiences regardless of their familiarity with other titles in the series.
There is not a single good reason for you or anyone you know to skip Creed. There is something for everyone in this film, and all of it is great, from the performances to the comedy, drama and especially the action. There are moments of camerawork and editing aspiring filmmakers will be studying for years in this movie, as well as dramatic sequences so powerful they will move the coldest soul you know to tears. I cannot think of another film released this year that has offer a better variety of quality content within an equally great narrative, and even though the ending might seem predictable there is more than enough good to leave you wanting more.