Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, the son of famous boxing champion Apollo Creed, wants to have a boxing career like the father he never knew, despite the protests from his adoptive mother and Creed’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). After moving to Philadelphia, Donnie finds a retired Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks him to become his mentor, but Rocky declines, having given up that part of his life. When Rocky sees Donnie’s dedication to boxing, though, he reconsiders and helps Donnie build a legacy of his own.
Sequels and reboots often have a similar problem that leads to their critical and box office failure—there’s not enough balance between throwback references and original ideas. They either rely too much on old material that was successful and can’t be replicated, or they try to ditch everything established in the old material for fresh ideas, which destroys the nostalgia that usually draws moviegoers into seeing the continuation or retelling of a story they love. Creed is not one of those films. It’s a sequel-reboot hybrid that perfectly nails the blend of nostalgia and originality. And it’s why it’s a damn good film.
What amazes me about this movie—beyond its character and plot development and immaculate cinematography—is that it’s part of the Rocky film franchise, yet it’s able to stand on its own. That is, you don’t have to see the eight million other Rocky films to understand what’s going. Like I said, it’s a hybrid. It feels like a sequel because we get to see what Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is up to in his old age, and we visit familiar settings like Mighty Mick’s and Adrian’s in Philadelphia. But it’s a reboot in that it’s no longer Rocky’s story. It’s the story of Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) and his world of boxing.
Few sequel/reboots have been able to master the nuance of paying tribute to a previous film (or, in this case, films) without sacrificing originality. But director and writer Ryan Coogler (who directed Fruitvale Station, which also starred Jordan) was able to have his cake and eat it, too, by bringing on Stallone as a creative consultant to help tie Creed back into Stallone’s original work while also adding his own slick, urban flair to the Rocky universe. Coogler made Creed feel familiar while also giving us something we haven’t seen before. And you get that sense when you watch the training montages and hear the brass-heavy soundtrack. It looks and sounds like Rocky, but there’s enough of a difference to tell you that this is Coogler’s vision.
Where the movie really succeeds, though, is its characters. Adonis and Rocky are well-matched in their new-age meets old-age story of boxing and family. You can see traits in Adonis that remind you of young Rocky—the unbreakable spirit, the pride that often leads to downfall. But there’s also something in them the other is missing. For Adonis, Rocky is the confidence booster and father he never knew. For Rocky, Adonis is the push to keep fighting in old age, even after he’d already given up. A lot of this is credited to the writing, but Jordan and Stallone deserve some credit, too. Jordan is considered to be one of the best actors of his generation, which comes as no surprise when you see his performance in Creed. Stallone, on the other hand, is like a good wine. He just keeps getting better with age.
I feel like this movie could make an appearance during this year’s awards season. Best Picture? It could easily make the list because it has both critics and the box office on its side. Best Actor? I’d like to see Jordan make the list, but Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, and Eddie Redmayne are topping everyone’s lists right now, so I’m not confident in this. Supporting Actor? Stallone will definitely be on the list. It’s not as competitive as the lead actor field this year, plus the Academy loves old actors making a comeback. Regardless of potential award nominations, though, if you don’t see Creed, you’ll miss out on an awesome movie.
Overall, Creed proves that it’s possible to reboot a film franchise without sacrificing originality or throwbacks to the original movies. Director and writer Ryan Coogler added his own flair to the Rocky universe, both in terms of filmmaking and new characters, while also continuing Rocky Balboa’s story and taking creative pointers from Sylvester Stallone. The best part of this film is the pairing of Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, who are evenly-matched despite their generation gap. Both blend just enough humor and heart in their performances and never seem cheesy or melodramatic. Creed is a movie worth seeing. It may even be one of the year’s best.
For my radio review of Creed on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 25:08 mark)