Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Rocky is the classic underdog story. The reason it has struck a chord with so many viewers and has remained an American classic is because of what Rocky’s journey represents, both for himself and for the audience. The story of a bum who never thought he’d amount to anything being given a shot at the world title appeals to the ideal of a ‘nobody’ becoming a ‘somebody’ through hard work, endurance and heart. In many ways Rocky is the story of the American Dream. One of the challenges facing Creed is that it has to somehow tell that same story without repeating it. It has to be true to the spirit of the original film while still telling its own story in order to truly come into itself as a reboot of an iconic classic. Under Coogler’s direction Creed succeeds admirably both as a sequel and as its own movie and is more than a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitamite son of the late Apollo Creed, the heavyweight world champion, who is adopted and raised by Apollo’s wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Growing up in the shadow of his father Adonis dreams of becoming a great fighter as well but wants to do so in his own name. Having grown up in a wealthy background though, nobody will give him the chance he needs because he’s never known what it’s like to fight out of necessity. Adonis travels to Philadelphia in order to track down his father’s former opponent and good friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who is now retired and managing a restaurant named after his late wife. He also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who also dreams of making a name for herself. When Rocky reluctantly agrees to take him under his wing, a life-changing opportunity is presented to them that could be the making or the unmaking of Adonis Creed.
What this film cleverly does through Adonis’ story is provide an underdog’s journey that is not a repeat of Rocky’s but is instead a parallel. Rocky was a poor, modest fighter who resigned himself to a life of unrealised dreams and potential until he was given an opportunity to show everyone what he could really do. Adonis has grown up with all the advantages that Rocky never had and is as aimless as Rocky was. Nobody will give him the chance to prove himself because nobody believes that he has what it takes. Adonis has to fight in order to prove that he isn’t what anyone else says he is and that the only person who can define him is himself. This is a battle that he has to fight both on and off the ring as he sets out to prove himself to the world. What makes this film work is that, much like how Adonis does not try to live off his father’s name, this film doesn’t try to live off Rocky’s name. It tries to tell its own story with its own character in its own way while still honouring its roots. Creed is a Rocky film in spirit but in everything else it is a Creed movie.
Michael B. Jordan is unstoppable in this film. The determination and grit he shows as Adonis is astonishing. We see that he admires the father that he never knew and tries to emulate him in his journey to become a fighter. He doesn’t want the Creed name to be what gets him there though, so this is something he has to accomplish as himself. Perhaps this because he doesn’t want his name to be the only part of him that people will ever see or maybe it’s because he feels that he has to earn the Creed name before he can wear it. All he knows is that fighting is what he has to do and no one is going to tell him otherwise. Stallone delivers a career best performance in his return as a retired Rocky Balboa. He plays him as a man who has truly lived a fighter’s life. He has known happiness and pain, love and loss, and success and failure, and he looks back at it all now without regret. When Adonis comes into his life and asks him to be his mentor, that’s when Rocky decides that perhaps he’s got one more fight left in him after all. Also worthy of praise is Bianca, a love-interest who isn’t just a love-interest (a rare species in films). She is a complete character with a personality, a story and a purpose.
The underdog story has been done to death in film and yet Creed manages to make it feel fresh and new. It had me rooting for Adonis every step of the way yet there was never a point when I thought that his victory was a sure thing. Just like in the original Rocky this film allows the viewer to really follow this character and to learn what this chance means to him. You feel the effort he puts in as he fights through blood, toil, sweat and tears to prove himself. Every hit he takes is a blow and every punch he lands is a victory. Creed is packed with powerful boxing matches and stunning training montages and possesses that raw intensity that Ryan Coogler is so good at capturing. This could have gone very badly very easily but, against all odds, Creed is a resounding triumph.