Review - Creed

Creed (2015), PG-13, 133 minutes - When I first heard that there would be yet another entry in the Rocky franchise, I was admittedly a bit leery.  After all, there had already been six films chronicling the boxing career of Rocky Balboa, the last of which saw Sylvester Stallone's iconic boxer come out of retirement for one last bout in the ring.  I was afraid that the franchise may be going to the well one too many times (I actually enjoyed 2006's Rocky Balboa, which course corrected the franchise a bit after the mis-step that was 1990's Rocky V).  But then, as I learned more about how this seventh film came to be, and who was involved, I became more and more intrigued.  Apparently, Creed was the brain-child of up-and-coming writer/director Ryan Coogler, who had previously written/directed 2013's highly regarded Fruitvale Station (a film I have unfortunately not yet had the opportunity to see).  Anyway, he went to Sylvester Stallone with an idea for a film that would extend the Rocky legacy, but would focus instead on Rocky's rival-turned-best friend's son.

Creed wastes no time in establishing its starring character.  It opens with Apollo Creed's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) paying a visit to a boy named Adonis Johnson at a juvenile detention center.  We learn that he is Apollo's son (born out of an affair Creed had before he passed) and has bounced around a number of group homes.  Mary Anne shares her connection to Apollo with Adonis and offers to let him live with her.  The film then jumps forward a number of years.  Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is now a self-taught boxer who crosses the border into Tijuana in order to participate in boxing matches.  He's amassed a 14-0 record fighting on the side of his day job at a financial firm in Los Angeles.  Against Mary Anne's wishes, he quits his white collar job to pursue boxing full time.  He first goes to the gym his father trained at in L.A. but is turned away, believing that he's not tough enough, that he comes from a life of privilege.  He then journeys cross-country to Philadelphia where he badgers Rocky (Stallone) into training him.

Michael B. Jordan's and Sylvester Stallone's performances are the backbone of this film, and not just because they are the lead characters.  There's a chemistry and understanding between the two that really makes the Adonis/Rocky relationship work.  Both mature and bond a great deal throughout the course of the film.  Adonis, trying to make a name for himself while learning to embrace his roots at the same time, and Rocky realizing that he has something to live and fight for, that he still has the support of loved ones even if they aren't who he had expected, and takes cancer head on instead of bowing out without a fight.  Phylicia Rashad's limited screen time is taught with a mother's love, first admonishing Adonis' decision to follow his father's path to the ring, then being completely supportive of his efforts once she see's how serious he is.

Coogler does an excellent job of weaving new characters into the Rocky mythos.  Adonis and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) have a relationship that feels vaguely reminiscent of Rocky and Adrian, but completely different at the same time.  Rocky fills the role of father-figure and trainer in much the same way Mickey did for him when he was younger.  Creed tells an inspirational, up-lifting story (the hallmark of any good Rocky film) and manages to set up the potential for future stories without it feeling like a money grab.  This film is a worthwhile entry to the Rocky saga and will leave you wanting more, which is both a little surprising and refreshing.  Even if this franchise has run its course in your mind, I highly recommend that you give Creed a shot.  It'll win you over.

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