- Movie Rating -

Creed (2015)

| November 25, 2015

One of the greatest gifts that the movies can give back to a true movie fan is the feeling of coming home. Few movies are worth the return trip, but when done right we get the joy of reuniting with old friends, catching up with great characters years later and seeing how their lives turned out. There are a few movies from my childhood that formed my passion for this crazy medium that are worth revisiting, and there are few characters that I enjoy revisiting quite like Rocky.

It might be tempting to think that by this sixth sequel that the series would now be just a giant parody of itself. The funny thing is, it did that 30 years ago when Rocky went to Russia before Stallone reeled it back in and saved this series from becoming an redeemable joke. He did it in 2006 with Rocky Balboa and he does it again here. You can feel the passion that he has for this character and his world.  These movies are, if nothing else, proof that given the right material Stallone can really act.

Creed is one of the most beautiful sequels I’ve ever seen. It contains a lot of the dark corners that made the original so special. It’s human, it has heart and it moves with the flow of real life. It has an agenda that seems to be more than just to ride the coattails a famous series – and remember this is the seventh movie! We see real characters on the screen. We feel for their plight. We love these people. We want the best for them. Most of all, we want the film to fall out of the shadow of its predecessors and show us something new. That’s the best part, director Ryan Coogler isn’t satisfied to let the film lay on its side and just purr with nostalgia, he wants this story to breathe with a life and energy all its own.

Coogler, I am sure, knows that he can easily get by on nostalgia alone, but he’d be making a very bad movie. After the poetic beauty of Rocky Balboa nine years ago, which wrote the final chapter for the titular club fighter, this chapter turns the story in a different direction. As the movie opens we meet a troubled kid, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) an orphan who’s been in and out of foster care for years and has finally landed himself in a juvenile detention center. A woman comes to visit him, not a social worker, but Mary Anne Creed (played with maternal gusto by Phylicia Rashad), the wife of the late Apollo Creed. Adonis learns that he is the product of an extra-marital one-night stand that Apollo had not long before his fatal bout with Ivan Drago. Yet, despite Apollo’s transgression, Mary Ann pulls Adonis – nicknamed Donnie – out of the narrow destiny of guns, drugs, and swagger and gave him a chance at a productive life.

Years go by and despite a knack for the business world, another destiny calls Donnie’s name. He begins making money by boxing secretly in Tijuana making his own name but never telling anyone about his famous lineage. He wants to be he his own man, and not be just a hitch upon a famous father that he never knew. Leaving home, Donnie finds himself – where else? – Philadelphia. Determined to make his way in the boxing world he looks up Rocky, now pushing 70, at his restaurant and asks him to train him. The Stallion initially says no, but we know that this series doesn’t get by on that word.

From there what happens is not all that surprising if you’re a veteran of this series. What is surprising is how human his story is. Rocky now deals with his own mortality – his extended family is all gone and his world is basically empty, and he’s dealing with issues of his own mortality – there’s a development that I won’t spoil.

Adonis’ fire and determination are an eerie shadow of his old man. The flow of the film is that each character is given one dimension more than just their service to the story. For example, Adonis gets a girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) an aspiring musician who wants to build a music career before she succumbs to a progressive hearing loss. Important to the story? No. Important to the character? Yes!  She stands by Donnie but she’s more than just a fixture.  There’s a feeling that she’s lived as hard a life as he.  There’s a grace to her character that makes us want to see her succeed as well.

The arc of the film is Donnie’s troubling family name. While training, he keeps the name Johnson, but never tells anyone about his famous father. Once he’s outed by nosey journalists, offers start pouring in for major fights because everyone wants to cash in on the Creed moniker. But Rocky, who’s been down this road before, doesn’t want to see the kid get destroyed by bad decisions, and that becomes the crux of the relationship between the wise old man and the hot-headed young kid.

This is a beautifully made film. It has edges and corners that we don’t expect. Even the familiar formulas of the other films feel fresh and new. The final bout between Donnie and a British bruiser named “Pretty Ricky” Conklin feels original. All boxing movies have a final fight, but the great directors know how to tell the story inside the ring. Here we understand what his happening and what is at stake at every single moment, making this one of the most exciting cinematic boxing matches since Raging Bull. I was so happy that the filmmakers had the intelligence not to put Rocky back in the ring – it’s not his story. This is the story of the rise of a kid determined to climb out of the shadow of a father so lionized by history that it might be easy for him to simply skate by. Donnie has a lot of demons to battle and a lot of pressures to overcome. Jordan plays Donnie as a young man mired in the fear and confusion of a young man forging an identity for himself.

Long essays can and should be written about this movie. It overcomes so many traps, and steps right where other sequels step wrong. This far into a series we might expect that it had spun its wheels until they come off, but by twisting the focus, Ryan Cooglar and his co-screenwriter Aaron Covington have written a new chapter here. There are themes to be explored not just about determination but about battling this thing called life and making decisions that will chart the course of destiny.  Plus it’s also about coming home.  The best movies do that, they allow us to come back around and see the great characters pressed by the adamant of time.  It’s always wonderful to revisit Rocky again and the end of the movie, which I won’t spoil, brings  him back to where we met him, only this time for a different reason.  He’s home again, and so are we.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Drama