There’s a scene in Creed in which its three main characters are all asleep while 2012’s James Bond film Skyfall plays on the television. Regardless of director Ryan Coogler’s intentions, I took it as emblematic of his movie as a whole – like Skyfall, also part of a long running film franchise, there’s an “old dog, new tricks” feel to Creed in the best way possible. This is a story we’ve all seen told before, but it’s spun in a new, reinvigorated, and electrifying way. Coogler’s unironic devotion to all of the elements that made the original Rocky so great is on display. Make no mistake, this is a crowd pleaser, but like The Force Awakens it earns its status through sincerity rather than cheap fan service.
Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, son of the great Apollo Creed who fought Rocky Balboa in the 1976 original. After a rough childhood spent bouncing around juvy he is taken in by Apollo’s wife, although she is not his biological mother. He quits his white collar job because boxing is his passion (he spends his weekends fighting down in Tijuana, Mexico), moves to Philadelphia, and searches for his ideal trainer – Rocky Balboa himself. What follows is a succession of Creed hitting predictable story beats and moments, but in a re-energized and spirited way. Coogler injects the film with a high intensity befitting of its subject matter – he directs the hell out of this thing (particularly the boxing sequences, which hit as hard and fast as anything I’ve seen).
Through his reverence for the original, Coogler also understands the need to slow things down occasionally and build character. Although Creed‘s action, its brazing and bold imagery (such as Jordan sprinting down a Philadelphia street, the “Rocky theme” blurring with a hip-hop cue, as youths pop wheelies on dirt bikes all around him), and search for identity all make for satisfying cinema it is the lead relationship between Balboa and Donnie that resonates strongest. Stallone, who truly deserves an Oscar nomination for his work, brings his trademark machismo intensity while adding in layers of vulnerability rarely seen. Jordan is simply a force of nature. Their chemistry and connection bring Creed’s finest moments. Although the film may occasionally hit the beats of the original a bit too faithfully (as good as she is, the romance subplot with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca feels tangential and obligatory, detracting from the core relationship and momentum of the picture) Creed is a heavy hitter both cinematically and emotionally.