CREED was released Thanksgiving 2015 and it lived up to all of the hype that preceded it. This was no doubt my favorite film of the year. It is a continuation of the Rocky (1976) franchise, which follows an underdog boxer named Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone). Here Stallone reprises his role as the “Italian Stallion”, but this time around he’s in for a different fight. Too old to get into the ring and completely devoid of any desire to do so, Rocky winds up becoming a mentor and trainer to the son of his former opponent turned friend Apollo Creed. Together, Rocky and Adonis (played by Michael B. Jordan) help one another in ways they never imagined.
Adonis has had an extremely rough life and at the beginning of the movie it is apparent that he has a chip on his shoulder. He is Apollo’s illegitimate son and the two never met (Apollo died in the ring in Rocky IV; do the math and Adonis was most likely still in the womb). Never knowing his father is problem enough, but add to that the fact that his father was a larger than life champion boxer. It is not hard to understand why Adonis has such a complex. He is trying to find who he is as a young man and assert himself as a boxer in his own right, but he has to do it in the shadows of a man that he will never know.
The movie follows Adonis as he connects with Rocky, falls in love, and trains to become a boxer worthy of respect.
Though Rocky is the vehicle that makes this film possible, it is obvious that CREED is for the next generation. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Chronicle) does a wonderful job in this role and further cements the fact that he is a talented actor with a long career ahead of him. I was incredibly impressed with how he transformed his body and got into the shape of a real-life boxer. The physicality and athleticism he was able to bring to the role really helped sell the film.
CREED was directed and co-written by the amazing Ryan Coogler. If you haven’t already heard of him you will very soon (he’s set to direct the highly anticipated film Black Panther, which will follow the story of Marvel’s first black superhero!!!!!). Coogler’s first film Fruitvale Station (also starring Jordan in the lead role) debuted in 2013 and was praised by critics and movie-goers alike. In Fruitvale and in CREED, Coogler gives a sense of humanity to an otherwise rough urban environment. The film is set in Philly and I feel that great care was taken to show the city in a special way that many don’t have the opportunity to see. Coogler makes a point to showcase the bike culture that is prevalent in Philly and he also shines a light on a few “hole-in-the-wall” places in the city. From the club that Adonis’ love interest Bianca (played by Queen Tessa Thompson) performs in, to the spot that Bianca and Adonis go to on their first date, the city is shown in a realistic, but positive light.
Let me take the opportunity to say that Thompson (Selma, Dear White People) did a fabulous job. Her character was pragmatic and likable. When delivering her lines she actually sounded like she was from Philly, using slang and vocabulary familiar to the culture. It was refreshing to see a young woman of color presented in such a positive way. I feel like we all have a home girl just like her. I won’t give too much away, but Bianca and Adonis connect mainly because she knows what it feels like to be fighting for something too.
The relationship between Adonis and Rocky is unexpected, but special nonetheless. It is obvious that the two need one another and this is bolstered by the great chemistry that Stallone and Jordan share onscreen. There was something so satisfying to me about seeing Stallone play Rocky as an aging man after his career has ended and the phone has stopped ringing. He gives an honest performance and it really feels as if we are witnessing a natural progression of one of cinema’s legendary characters. Nothing felt forced or contrived with the script, it all flowed in a way that felt right. It’s no wonder that Stallone took home the Golden Globe for his performance.
This film would be nothing without the scenes in the ring and in the gym. I love the moment when Adonis prepares to go up against his opponent in the film’s biggest moment. I get giddy recalling it actually. Tupac’s Hail Mary blares in the background and there is such a feeling of anticipation. If only every movie of its kind could embody that sense of expectation! Not to mention the incredible shots and the effortless way that the camera follows MBJ and his opponent’s every jab and punch, seemingly getting all of the action in ONE take. I won’t even tell you who wins the fight….you’ll have to see it for yourself 🙂
One last thing that I absolutely loved about CREED is the fact that I never once heard anyone refer to it as a “black film”. Sure it’s directed by a black man and stars a black man as the lead with a black love interest, but the truth of the matter is that this film transcends race. Adonis’ struggles are not a result of him being black. They are a result of him being human. In a time when Hollywood is desperately lacking diversity and racial equality during awards season, this film is a bright spot and in my humble opinion deserves all of the acclaim that it has received. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a sequel in the future.
CREED does what many seasoned franchises fail to do successfully, and that is seamlessly bridge the generational gap that exists among movie goers. What I mean by that is your dad will love CREED (mine did) and you will too. This movie will make you laugh and maybe even make you cry.
CREED also stars Queen Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, and Graham McTavish