I'm glad that Daddy Warpig and Red Letter Media made me aware of this hidden gem. Otherwise I would have missed it amid the hype surrounding other Christmas season movie releases.
For the sake of those who haven't seen the movie yet, I'll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson--a man who survived the rough and tumble foster care system of his childhood to become a productive member of society. Yet Johnson has a secret: his violent formative years have left their mark. In his time off from corporate America, he lives a double life as an amateur brawler in the underground boxing venues of Mexico.
What drives Adonis Johnson to risk his social position--and yes, his life--in the ring? The movie's name reveals the answer. Adonis is actually the title character; the son of Apollo Creed. Adopted by the widow whom Apollo cuckolded, Adonis fights not to honor his late father, but to defeat him.
Johnson's unresolved anger at his father is artfully expressed through the visual language of film when Adonis stands against a screen where Apollo's classic bout with Rocky Balboa is projected and begins to shadow box--not as his father, but as Rocky.
This double life finally collapses when Johnson quits his white collar job and moves to Philadelphia, intent on becoming a professional boxer. There, he seeks training from the only man who can help him exorcise his father's ghost: the long-retired Rocky himself.
Having greatly enjoyed its predecessor, 2006's Rocky Balboa, I had high hopes for Creed but tried to keep my expectations reasonable. After all, it's been almost a decade since the last installment in this series. What if Stallone had lost it? What if the new lead couldn't handle the role? What if the director wasn't up to the challenge?
I'm happy to report that Creed fulfills its potential on all levels. Sylvester Stallone is still a great actor who has only gained quiet gravitas with age. He easily slips into the role of trainer once held by the venerable Micky (Burgess Meredith).
Michael B. Jordan capably portrays a hungry young athlete who is equally driven and haunted by his father's greatness. His Adonis Creed is perhaps even more complex than Rocky--dedicated, yet temperamental; affectionate, yet sometimes selfish. Jordan succeeds in making this imperfect character endearing. The audience is firmly in his corner from the start.
Praise is also due to Creed's director, Ryan Coogler. His expert understanding of every element that makes a Rocky movie--or any sports movie, for that matter--work is on full display. From the gritty fight cinematography that remains intelligible for all its high energy, to his bold (in today's cinematic climate) choice to ease off the accelerator in order to properly develop characters, Coogler shows that he cares about the subject matter and the medium.
Word is that Coogler has been tapped by Marvel to direct Black Panther. If this rumor is true, we're likely in for a treat.
Special nods to the fans
Ever wonder who won the final, secret fight between Rocky and Apollo? Creed delivers the answer! Coogler also takes the lessons of the first Rocky to heart in his direction of this film's main conflict.
The only problem I have with Creed is minor, and it is itself a compliment to the film. Taking more time for characterization means that many of the boxing matches had to be truncated. I wanted to see more of the fights!
All in all, Creed is a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise that promises to keep the series headed in a lively and interesting direction.