It is rare when a sequel, remake or reboot captures the essence of the original movie or franchise. In too many cases the films are either far too homage-like to the point of distraction or just aren’t as good as the original. There is a fine line between honoring a beloved film or tarnishing it with a bad iteration. As a long-time fan of the Rocky franchise, I was skeptical but hopeful that the newest installment in the ‘Rocky Universe’, called Creed, would be a good film. And, let me tell you, it blew away my expectations! The film isn’t just a good addition to the universe, it is damn-near perfect. I have officially seen it twice and, given the fact that it was a boxing film, I was extremely surprised to find how much depth and emotion the film had. You do not need to be a boxing fan or sports fan to enjoy this movie because, at its core, the film is a dramatic telling of a young man, who grew up both without his father and in his father’s shadow, trying to take up the title of “Creed”.
The craziest thing about this film is that there were so many chances for it to go wrong. They could have tried to be too much like the originals, the acting could have been poor, hell I do not know the last time Stalone has impressed anyone with his acting, the boxing could have been messy or the story too convoluted. In spite of all of that, there is no question that Director Ryan Coogler and the cast of Creed sought to do the original series justice while also stamping out their own right to a future franchise. And, after watching this movie, I would have to agree with Coogler. We live in a world where the idea of a franchise is casual– ever studio wants name recognition! People came to see this movie in part because of brand recognition, Creed and Rocky iconic, but I think Coogler earned the right to a franchise with his vision in this film. People might have come because of the Stalone legacy, but they will come back because of the magic Coogler and the Oscar-worthy performance of Michael B. Jordan.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before Adonis was born. However, boxing is in his blood, so he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks the retired champ to be his trainer. Rocky sees much of Apollo in Adonis, and agrees to mentor him, even as he battles an opponent deadlier than any in the ring. With Rocky’s help, Adonis soon gets a title shot, but whether he has the true heart of a fighter remains to be seen.
This movie is truly something special, it captures the magic of the original franchise while bringing so much more to the table. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone really do have tons of on-screen chemistry together and connect well emotionally throughout the film. This is, in part, a story about Adonis Johnson finding a father figure in Rocky Balboa even after Rocky has, for the most part, given up on living a meaningful life and is content waiting for the time where he is able to see his beloved Adrian again. In his mind, he has lived his life and it is now the younger generations turn to live theirs. This is all turned on its head, of course, when Adonis forces his way into Rock’s life. There is a sort of beautiful duality in this relationship as Adonis has to come to terms with the bitterness he feels for his father through Rocky while Rocky has to decide whether or not it is okay to want to live life and have some sort of fulfillment event after he though that his life was essentially over. They both have their struggles and we get to see them battle said struggles throughout the film in a way that is extremely inviting and not too heavy-handed. There is no doubt that Stallone should be considering writing an Oscar Speech for best supporting actor and Michael B. Jordan should definitely be writing his for best actor– the performances in this film are something to watch and they draw you in and allow you to connect emotionally to the characters.
Just like in Rocky I, this movie isn’t about winning the world title, although that would be great. What is really is about, from the sports point of view, is seeing what one person is truly made of. Rocky points out to Adonis that, he doesn’t know if he is special, no one does…and the only way they are ever going to find out is when he is finally tested. Rocky’s journey was one of self-discovery, Adonis’s journey if a bit more dynamic though. Not only will he found out if he is special and what he is made of, but he will find the answer that he has been searching for: Was he a mistake? Being the illegitimate son of arguably the best boxer ever will definitely raise that question. So he, like Rocky was in the first movie, will be tested and he will find out not only if he was a mistake, but if he is worthy of the “Creed” name. “Creed” is as much of a title in this movie as it is a name especially for Adonis. He harshly rejects anything that has to do with the name throughout the film and at first you think it is out of hate, but then you learn that it is out of fear– a fear that Adonis dawns a brave face for every chance he can. This piece of the story is very human and relatable and there is so much emotion conveyed through Jordan’s face as well as Adonis’s actions.
Really I have only one negative thing to say about this film and it is only in one particular scene. There is one scene, and I will not spoil which, where Adonis’s and the movie in general pay particular homage to the first movie. I found this scene t be over-obvious and a bit cheesy the way they chose to do it. It felt unnatural and corny and took me out of the movie for a couple of seconds. But hey… 30 seconds of weirdness is a lot less than most movies have these days, am I right?
As much as I would like to tout this movie as a dramatic film, there is no denying that there is a serious sports-element to it. We are, in part, in the theater to see some boxing after all and this was another worry I had going into this film. Most boxing films in recent memory can tell a decent story but then something changes when the boxing actually comes on-screen. It is a hard thing to explain but boxing movies usually fall into two camps … (1) they either attempt to make the boxing look like you would see it on a pay-per-view bout as if you were watching HBO or (2) they try to make it overly CGI’s or cinematic. Both have the ability to take you right out of the movie no matter how good the boxing is. The first one, to me, does it more simply because your eyes have gotten used to seeing a quality HD movie with amazing cameras and then all of a sudden is doesn’t feel like a movie anymore– the quality suffers a bit from this and it just feels distracting. But with the second one, they move too far in the other direction, where everything looks or feels awkward or a bit staged, and things tend to move around on the screen a bit to quickly making it hard to focus on the action.
Creed, however, has some of the best boxing I have ever seen at the theater. They don’t do the whole ring-side pay-per-view feel nor do they take you away from the action by making it look to cinematic. The fights are amazingly well choreographed and put you right into the middle of the action so you feel like you are in the moment. There are two major fights in the film and both are filmed a bit differently. The first fight is filmed in a single take, which I have never seen in a boxing movie before, and it looks amazing. You will know which fight I am talking about when you see it, the camera follows the two fighters very closely and pans in and out seamlessly to give you a visual of the entire situation while still maintaining your attention and focus on the fight. The second fight is captured in a more traditionally way, where they did different cuts and more time in post, but even that does an extremely great job of balancing the fact that you are watching a movie but also watching a boxing match– you never felt distracted– you were engrossed in the character’s bloody battle. When I saw it in theaters for the second time, people in the theater were rooting, out loud, for Adonis, trying to spur him on and encourage him and they clapped when it was over. I haven’t seen a movie that engrosses you in the characters plight to such a degree that you, yourself, are emotionally invested in the movies outcome.
This film was fantastic and it will leave you wanting more! It deserves a franchise if only to see Adonis Creed and Stallone on-screen for one more movie together. There is a magic and an on-screen chemistry that I don’t think is easily matched in the cinema today. I don’t generally buy movies when they come out on bluray but I know I will not only be purchasing this one, but pre-ordering it. Coogler has cemented himself with Creed and with Fruitvale Station as an amazing director with passion and vision and he has an amazing career ahead of him, I just hope that he and Jordan continue working together.