I am upset with myself that I never took the time to see Creed when it was released last year. I purposefully watched Fruitvale Station and Rocky in preparation for Ryan Coogler’s Force Awakens-esque reboot-remake-sequel. But I just never went out to see it. Fortunately I was able to see it recently and man was I blown away by this film. Rocky is often considered to be one of the best movies ever made and is rightfully positioned as one of the best boxing movies. I would have to say that Creed deserves to be placed along films such as The Fighter and Raging Bull as one of the best boxing films ever made.
Creed is the story of Adonis Creed aka Adonis Johnson, played marvelously and ferociously by Michael B. Jordan (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), who is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, the famed rival of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone giving a sorrowful and caring performance), and tries to make it as his own in the boxing world as he trains with Rocky to prove that he is worth more than his father’s name. The film’s story is simply fantastic, as it focuses on Adonis’ relationships and the ghost of his father. Adonis spends much of the film trying to make a name for himself while escaping and ultimately embracing his father’s legacy as a Creed.
Ryan Coogler has crafted a film that is, in a word, fantastic. On an incredibly superficial level, Creed appears to have all of the trappings of a typical underdog boxing movie. The hero works from the bottom, has a love interest, has an older trainer who makes life tough for him, deals with familial hardship and violence, and ultimately has a big fight that echoes his fight in life. But Creed is so much better than that cliched tale because it transcends every typical story beat.
Adonis’ love interest (a magnetic Tessa Thompson whom I was first impressed by in Dear White People) is her own person, whose story and background is so fascinating that I would gladly follow her character in her own movie. Rocky is very different from his other films. He is older and wiser, and much more weary. His age has caught up with him, but, like his new trainee, still has something to fight for and he and Adonis help each other. Adonis is not the typical underdog. He is not this poor kid, but a rich adult with a cushy job and a loving adoptive mother (Phylicia Rashad). Each familiar trope has a unique twist that allows Creed to stand out and stand up against other similar films. Especially the relationship between Rocky and Adonis.
But before I focus on the great father-son relationship between the two leads, I want to give praise to Coogler (who is only 30(!)), the actors and the cinematographer Maryse Alberti for capturing intense and amazing fight scenes. The one-take has been mentioned a lot, but I love the little character beats that are inserted into the choreography and scenes, such as the moment that when Adonis starts unwrapping his gloves after a TKO down in Tequila as the ref is still counting. His confidence and arrogance is wonderfully shown through that simple background motion. The fights are worthy to be seen on their own due to their creativity and clarity and design. Bravo Coogler and Alberti. Can’t wait to see what they do with Black Panther.
Now back to the characters. The soul of Creed can be found in the chemistry between Stallone and Jordan. The love felt between the two is palpable. I completely bought into Adonis’ need for approval and praise from Rocky. And I felt, through all of his thick skin, the subtle loneliness that Stallone brought to the role. Rocky needed a reason for life in Adonis just as much as Adonis needed a trainer and father in Rocky. Their relationship progressed gracefully and naturally. I never felt that the dialogue nor the performances nor the actions of the characters felt forced. They were completely in line with what was set up in past films and in Creed. The bond formed between these two fighters was heartwarming and not melodramatic, which can be tough to do in a sports movie.
Creed is one of the best films of 2015, one I wished I saw in a crowded theater, and easily one of the best boxing films ever made. Due to the fight scenes, the rich themes, and amazing performances, Creed deserves to carry on the classic legacy of Rocky.