And yet, Rocky’s statue isn’t at the top of the steps anymore.
Shortly before he died at the savage hands of Ivan Drago, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) had an affair with a woman that led to the birth of a son, Adonis. While many years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t keep the “Creed” name and instead, decides to go with his biological mother’s last name, “Johnson”. However, no matter how much Adonis may want to make it seem like he’s not like his father, he’s still following the same path; not only does he want to become a professional boxer, but he also wants to do so in a matter that gains him respect and gratitude from those around him. Though Adonis is quite wealthy and doesn’t have to be fighting, he still feels like he owes it to himself, as well as his daddy’s legacy, which is why he decides to take a trip to Philadelphia and track down his late father’s old buddy/trainer/opponent, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). While Rocky is reluctant to train Adonis at first, eventually, he gives in and decides to teach the young man a thing or two about not only controlling his mind in the ring, but out of it, as well. This leads to Adonis trying to make a name for himself in the world of professional boxing, where the conversation always seems to lead more towards who his father is, and less about what sort of talents he actually has as a boxer.
A lot of people are worried about Creed. The reason for this has solely to do with the fact that the Rocky movies, minus the first, are all pretty silly and, dare I say it, bad. While Rocky will forever and always be considered a classic (as well as it should be), the other various sequels feel as if they do nothing more than just hurt that movie’s great legacy, rather than assist it. Don’t get me wrong, the sequels are all still fine and entertaining, but each and everyone has taken on a different sort of following that has less to do with the underdog, likable spirit of the first movie and more with how over-the-top and cheesy everything in the late-70’s-to-early-90’s were. Therefore, because of these movies not being quite as up-to-par as the iconic original, Creed is looked at as, yet again, another cash-cow for the Rocky franchise.
But have no fear, everybody: Despite it being the seventh installment in said franchise, Creed is possibly the best Rocky movie since the first.
Granted, it’s not saying much, but still, pretty much is.
The main reason as to why Creed works so well and isn’t just another heartless, soulless piece of franchise cinema, is because the talent involved with it, really do seem to genuinely care about where they take this story next. It’s actually quite surprising that no one has yet to even try and create a movie focusing in on Apollo’s family, but regardless of how long it took, it’s great to see that it attracted director Ryan Coogler, who, with Fruitvale Station a few years ago, showed a fresh, young and energetic voice that was desperately wanting to be heard. While Creed is maybe less preachy and topical as that movie, Coogler still does a nice enough job in adding just enough heart and emotion that makes this seem like more than just a traditional boxing movie – it’s got plenty more heart than that.
And of course, most of this can all be chalked up to the fact that Adonis Creed/Johnson, is a pretty well-written character to have your movie revolve around. While there’s no denying that the character of Rocky Balboa will forever and always remain legendary, there’s something sad and heartfelt about Adonis’ road to boxing that makes his journey all the more engaging. Though most fighters are simply fighting because it’s all that they are able to do and make money with, Adonis is doing it more to figure out just where he comes from and exactly who his father was. He doesn’t specifically say this from the very beginning, but it’s clear that, from the very beginning, he’s boxing for a reason and he’ll continue to search for it until he finds it.
It also deserves to be said that Michael B. Jordan, as usual, is stellar as Adonis. Jordan, as he’s done with his past few performances, has shown a genuine sincerity to each and everyone of his characters who, may not always make the smartest decisions out there, but have nice enough hearts that you want to see where they go and what happens to them next. That Adonis is already made to be a superstar like his late, great father, makes him coming to terms with what that all means, quite touching and honest – something that a Rocky movie hasn’t been in quite some time.
Oh, and yeah, while I’m at it, I guess I might as well talk about Rocky, the character, considering that, after all, this movie is sort of about him, too.
There’s no denying the fact that Sylvester Stallone is a good actor; while he definitely has certain limitations to his range, the guy has a few handful of key, interesting performances that shows he’s capable of taking a character and doing wonders with him. Granted, he needs the right guidance to do so, or he just ends up looking and sounding like a blubbering mess, but nonetheless, Sly Stallone is a fine actor. His only problem is that when he’s not appearing in bad flicks, he’s directing himself, and that doesn’t always tend to get the best performance out of him.
However, with Coogler’s direction, Sly digs deeper into Rocky than ever before; rather than just seeing the funny, charismatic and simple Italian Stallion from Philadelphia, we see someone who is coming to terms with the fact of his own existence. There’s plenty talk in this movie about how Rocky is old and may be joining the likes of Paulie and Adrian quite soon, which is not only hard-to-watch, but even harder to fully accept – this is Rocky, dammit! He’s the one and only underdog!
How can he lose! Better yet, how can he die!
Well, as the movie, as well as Sly’s powerful performance, shows, it’s quite simple: He just can. He’s older now and his bones don’t quite work as well as they used to. That’s why, when we get scenes of Rocky and Adonis training together, whether it be through soft-boxing, punching the bag, jumping rope, jogging, or walking up those infamous steps, it’s hard not to get a twinkle in your eye, a smile on your face, and a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. In a way, it almost seems like Sly himself, is genuinely happy portraying this role all over again, but like I said, it isn’t just another one of those performances we’ve seen from him before. He’s more raw, understated and interesting than he’s ever been before and it shows just the kind of talent Sly was and, in ways, still is.
He just needs the right people to guide him along every so often.
And because there’s plenty of emotion concerning these characters, the fights themselves pack on an extra punch as well. That we know Adonis needs these fights more than anything, makes it especially hard to watch as he continuously gets beaten to a near-bloody pulp, just to prove that he has what it takes. In a way, it’s almost self-abusive, but it’s still compelling to watch because we care for Adonis and the reason for why it is that he’s fighting. Not to mention that Coogler, too, does a great job at filming these boxing-sequences that make them still feel fresh and exciting.
On a side note, though, Creed also works best, just like the original Rocky, as a nice little postcard of Philadelphia. Being from and currently living in Philadelphia, it was great to see my city not just get a whole lot of attention, but also be discussed and portrayed in a way that makes it seem like a lovely city where anyone can come, find themselves, and achieve all sorts of greatness. For some people living in Philly, they may not believe this all to be true, but still, it’s great to see my city get a much-deserved spotlight, as well as also give me something to point at when talking to my friends about what location, was shown when.
Basically, I’ll just be a tour-guide from here on out.
Consensus: Like it’s well-known predecessors, Creed is a conventional boxing flick, but still features enough heart, emotion and good performances that make this seventh installment still an interesting, if also, fun watch.
8 / 10