It’s easy to get cynical about sequels and reboots when it is clear most of these movies are made for financial, instead of creative, reasons.
This is why, at first glance, it is easy to dismiss “Creed” as one last attempt to wring the remaining few dollars out of the fading “Rocky” franchise. But to underestimate this movie is the same as underestimating the titular underdog, as this is a rousing, heartfelt, fantastically-made film that packs quite a punch.
“Creed” is a fitting bookend for this truly fascinating series. “Rocky” was a great, character-driven film (it won Best Picture nearly 40 years ago in 1976) that spun off a blockbuster franchise that was packed with furious action and every sports cliché under the sun.
The series appeared to be put out to pasture after 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” and everybody seemed pretty much OK with that.
So what to make of “Creed”? Enter talented, young filmmaker Ryan Coogler, who made a dynamite debut in 2013 with “Fruitvale Station.”
The writer/director snagged the charismatic star of that film, Michael B. Jordan, to play the title character in a movie that brings the franchise back to its roots.
Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s greatest rival Apollo Creed.
When we first meet young Adonis, he is an angry, adolescent orphan who gets plucked out of a juvenile detention center by Creed’s matronly widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).
Adonis is raised in privilege, but can’t escape the need to fight, so he quits his office job and moves from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to begin his boxing career. After he is turned out of his father’s old gym Adonis seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone doing some of his best work in years) to be his trainer.
What made Rocky terrific as a character, especially in the first movie, was he was a lovable loser with a heart much bigger than his brain who found something noble inside of himself that helped him achieve greatness.
Stallone recaptures that in “Creed,” as Rocky is back to being just a friendly, forgotten neighborhood guy running a restaurant (aptly named “Adrian’s”) who finds that greatness again when Adonis comes knocking in need of a father figure.
As much as “Rocky” was a love story, “Creed” follows the same path, as Adonis falls for his downstairs neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a bohemian musician with her own chip on her shoulder.
Adonis tries to keep his heritage a secret, fighting under the name Johnson, but word gets out he is the son of Apollo and a title shot comes knocking in the form of champion Ricky Conlan (played by professional heavyweight Tony “Bomber” Bellew) looking for a quick payday by fighting a famous name.
This movie is about as close to perfection as you could ever hope to expect from a film like this and the credit goes to the powerful 1-2 punch of Coogler and Jordan. Coogler brilliantly mixes in just enough of the “Rocky” formula to give you chills (what’s up, thrilling training montage that begins with the sound of a bell?!), but puts enough of his own creative stamp on it to make all this familiarity feel fresh and new.
Jordan is a star in the making and while his Adonis may be an underdog in the ring, he’s no Rocky clone as he brings a distinct charm, edge and flair the Italian Stallion never had. Adonis Creed is his own man.
“Creed” is a tremendous movie that overcomes what might have been the longest odds of all — injecting some prestige back into the “Rocky” franchise. This movie will make you feel like you can go 12 rounds yourself and you won’t even have to do a single pushup.
“Creed” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some sensuality.