creed_1Year: 2015
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 133mins

Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. (Source)

The original Rocky was a success story both on and off the page, heralding the arrival of screen legend Sylvester Stallone, but only after he fought to make the project a reality. Creed comes from a different place, but born from the same type of necessity, proving that the one-two punch of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan are a true force of nature, delivering a new cinematic titan who bleeds, sweats and fights his way into our hearts. Unlike the current glut of reboots, remakes and sequels, this film is unabashedly proud of its legacy, fully accepting of its roots while realizing the importance of forging its own path. Instead of an empty retread that hits all the same beats for lazy nostalgia, this latest iteration is revitalized and full of purpose. What we get is an emotional, modern underdog story that practices what it preaches, and feels more important now than ever.

Adonis “Donnie” Johnson is the son of former heavyweight boxing champ Apollo Creed. Having been born after his father’s untimely death, Donnie’s penchant for fighting and lack of a father figure lands him in and out of numerous orphanages and juvenile facilities, that is, until his mother decides to take him in at an early age. As an adult, he bides his time working at a financial institute between unsanctioned fights in Mexico, but is determined to follow in his father’s professional footsteps. This leads him to Philadelphia, tracking down his father’s old friend and opponent, the legendary Rocky Balboa; a hometown hero living a modest life, keeping to himself and avoiding the ring. At first hesitant to become involved with Donnie for understandable reasons, the pair realize that they have too much in common to ignore, sharing respective battles that show how family runs deeper than blood.

Needless to say, Donnie and the Rock’s relationship is not only the heart of the film, but the thematic center that unspools the story’s themes of family, identity, legacy and perseverance. Like the original Rocky, this isn’t about a single fight or opponent, but the inner struggle of these characters and the strength they find in each another. Coogler and Aaron Covington’s script is smartly layered, fleshing out their characters with respective obstacles to examine and contrast what makes them tick, cleverly crossing their paths from opposite ends of the spectrum. Through a tight mix of heart-stopping technical achievement (including some killer fight sequences) and emotional resonance, you can feel Donnie and Rock’s internalized stakes as they wrestle with their convictions, physical limitations and outside circumstances in a way that’s just plain exciting. It all amounts to an irresistible bromance, mixing heart and ambition to create a focused examination of these characters’ primal humanity and the things that they hold dear.

creed_2On top of the film’s streamlined, narrative aplomb, are a pair of outstanding performances from Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. As Donnie, Jordan portrays a true fighter and survivor, full of conviction and able to relate a lot of inner struggle in a way that feels urgent and natural. He’s great at balancing rage with vulnerability and the intimidating physicality of his character with a charm that seeps through the cracks. As Rocky, Stallone reminds you of why he became a household name. This is one of his meatiest roles, and Coogler plays to his strengths, showing him as a weary man who’s also content with where life’s brought him. Stallone slowly reveals different layers to his character throughout, and you’ll want to cheer for him again before the film is over. As we watch Stallone, we’re also reminded of how he’s from a distinctly different time period, one in which movie stars had real weight to them thanks to charisma alone. Naturally, Jordan and Stallone are electric together, and there’s a natural humor they bring to their on-screen relationship, trading verbal banter that grounds each encounter with realism and endearment. It’s also important to note Tessa Thompson’s Bianca, who may just be a love interest, but a compellingly strong one who holds her own against her male counterpoints.

In the spirit of the original, and in a way that still feels fresh, Creed is lined with inspiration and hope, without having to ignore the complexity or darkness of the world we live in. It’s not just a universal story that we can all get behind, but also a crowd-pleasing addition into sports film canon that puts humanity at its center to transcend genre. Director Ryan Coogler proves that Fruitvale Station wasn’t a fluke, exhibiting his skill behind the camera and leading Michael B. Jordan to a transformative role, while giving Stallone one of the best performances of his career. Creed is an easy winner, a passionate example of blockbuster filmmaking that resonates and reminds us of why we go to the movies.

SG