No, Creed is not the long-awaited biopic of the 00s Christian rock band who did “With Arms Wide Open.” It is the seventh film in the Rocky series and is genuinely the most fun movie experience this year since Jurassic World.
This film focuses on Adonis Creed, son of Rocky’s deceased opponent turned BFF Apollo Creed. Who knew he even had a kid?! Well, turns out our eyes weren’t deceiving us in the previous movies. Apparently Creed had an affair outside of his marriage and the result was Adonis. After the boy’s birth mother dies, Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) is nice enough to take the troubled child in. It probably didn’t help that he was named after a Greek God. No pressure.
Adonis grows into Michael B. Jordan and with the eye of the tiger roaring in him, he moves to Philadelphia to find his late father’s buddy Rocky to train him in the ways of boxing. The fragile, reluctant Balboa is eventually convinced to get back in the ring for his “nephew” and in the funny ways of luck these movies’ plots hinge on, Adonis is promptly signed to a high profile fight as the underdog against a vicious, more seasoned champion. With everything stacked against him, how can he possibly win? And how do the press conferences in these flicks get so wildly out of control?
It feels like familiar territory, especially since Stallone used the nostalgia trip motifs previously in Rocky Balboa (the sixth Rocky movie). He basically acts out the same screenplay here: Balboa runs a restaurant, mourns his deceased loved ones and just seems to be biding his remaining days, but still, he’s hungry. Somehow this all feels fresh, mostly thanks to the curious case of Michael B. Jordan.
Fantastic Four was not his fault. Yes, he was an uninteresting Human Touch, but no one in that movie had a chance of being interesting. Here though, he commands screen presence, fulfilling everything that pulled us into his orbit in Fruitvale Station. He’s emotionally raw, muscularly shouldered, and seems to have all the right dangerous moves in the ring. He doesn’t exactly jog up those famous museum steps but he does run hard along his own street version of the scene, and by the time he raises his arms in training victory, we’re cheering along with him. Maybe he’ll have another chance to be a superhero someday.
And speaking of Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler does a riveting job here. The material isn’t as socially significant as his aforementioned debut feature but he manages to put his own stamp on such a marked franchise, much like what Sam Mendes did with the 007 movies in Skyfall. There are long, intimate tracking shots (one that lasts two entire boxing rounds), and fight cards that flash onto the screen like a video game whenever an opponent materializes. Coupled with his provocative scenes of quiet drama, Coogler is going to have an amazing career. No wonder he’s on the list for Marvel’s Black Panther.
Stallone doesn’t grandstand here. He falls into his beaten down, wizened supporting role with an irresistible sense of grace and self-deprecation as he mumbles out nuggets of his warrior’s code. “This guy here, that’s the toughest opponent you’re gonna hafta face.” Of course, Stallone is pointing into a mirror.
Tessa Thompson plays Adonis’s musically inclined love interest with a smooth dignity and she’s a dead ringer for Lisa Bonet. Also Cosby related is Phylicia Rashad, who makes the most out of her too-brief scenes in the film that mostly require her to look very worried. As for the main bad guy… Actually I don’t really remember the guy Creed finally fights, but then maybe that’s not entirely bad. During Stallone’s Decadent Era, Rocky’s opponents basically became colorful superhuman villains.
If anything, the music leaves a bit to be desired. The score is heavy on the hip-hop and although we finally get to hear a few scant strains of “Gonna Fly Now,” the bars of Bill Conti’s iconic theme song is sorely missed.
Even without the themes, Creed is unexpectedly exciting and inspiring enough to rouse applause by the jabs of the final round. It’s duly-abled manipulation with visceral physical human combat, but it does the job good, especially in these antiseptic, inhuman, CGI-bludgeoned times. Unlike the dourness of The Hunger Games, after this movie you leave the theater with a… Well… A burning heart and the unmistakable fire.
Creed is now playing in theaters everywhere.