Too often the problem with great movie franchises is that the films that follow can’t handle the task of staying true to what was special about the original while still being strong enough to stand alone. In order to hide these gaps, sequels routinely get crammed with a superfluous glut of famous names and expensive action sequences dripping with inconsequential cinematic fluff. Happily, CREED is not a part of this hackneyed tradition. Due largely to the clear-eyed and naturalistic steering of director Ryan Coogler, CREED more than rises to the occasion as a boxer’s clinic on staying true to a classic while also forging it’s own very unique and entertaining path.
Make no mistake, there are famous names in the film, starting notably with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and ending with the very palpable specter of actor Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed. However, the sizable bulk of CREED’s star power comes from today’s world of professional boxing versus Hollywood, giving CREED an understated but singularly modern authenticity. With former WBA and WBC Super Middleweight champion Andre Ward and Philly born and bred Puerto Rican Light Middleweight champion Gabriel Rosado putting in major screen time, even if you don’t know who they are going in, the fights in CREED crackle with an electricity that can’t be ignored.
While the fighting is top notch in CREED with a stylistic POV bent that gives EA Sport’s FIGHT NIGHT video games a run for their money, the film doesn’t get lost in the purely physical. What makes CREED transcend its subject matter is that it taps into the universal by changing focus from the enemy without to the more elusive enemy within that we all carry. Indeed, the fact that the film’s primary antagonist, “Pretty” Ricky Conlon, played with a lot of success by former British WBC Light Heavyweight champion Anthony Bellew, doesn’t have more screen time is an intriguing departure from most ROCKY films. But rather than obsess about this creative choice, filmmaker Coogler embraces it by doubling down and posing one question via every central character in CREED both old and new: “What makes a person fight when they are almost certain to lose?” The answers in CREED aren’t simple nor do they disappoint. It is almost guaranteed that every moviegoer based on their own life experiences will have their own takeaway on the validity of these answers as shown though CREED’s lens in this atypical but fresh addition to the ROCKY series.
Michael B. Jordan is both moving and believable physically and mentally in his portrayal of a young guy who can mix it up in the ring, but suffers greatly from the demons that put him there. Tessa Thompson has a fire and vulnerability as Adonis’ love interest, a woman who supports Adonis, but has a life of her own. Phylicia Rashad is the best that we have ever seen her as the concerned yet deeply conflicted parent who cannot bear to be too close or too far from the child that she has decided to love against all odds and convention. However, despite all of these wonderful performances, by far the best fusion of old and new is the beautifully wrought yet easily fractured relationship between Michael B. Jordan’s Creed and Sylvester Stallone’s shopworn Rocky Balboa. As the cinematic relationship between their fictional characters suggests, the scenes that Jordan and Stallone play together bring out the best of both in this very satisfying movie with knockout cinematic results.
CREED from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema opens nationwide today, November 25, 2015.