Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad,
Director: Ryan Coogler
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: March 1, 2016
“One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.”
Creed is the perfect continuation of the legacy of Rocky Balboa.
As directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, this film is everything a fan could ask for, and then some more. It’s powerful, well-acted, and superbly directed, but most of all, it shows great heart, as well as knowledge and respect for what came before in the series.
That last part is most important to me. I love the Rocky movies. Tremendously. Even the ones I don’t like so much, I love…if that makes sense. The characters created by Sylvester Stallone spoke to one generation of Americans, but more so, they continued to speak to newer and newer generations.
Coogler, by his admission, has always been a fan. He talked about watching the movies with his father and what the films meant to them both. After his breakout success Fruitvale Station, he developed an idea on how to take the series in a new direction. He sought out Sylvester Stallone, who probably thought at his age he had retired the character for good. After all, he went out on a high note in Rocky Balboa.
Coogler knows the history of the stories, and pays them respect and reverence, while telling the tale HE most wanted to tell…we all know the legacy of Rocky, but what of the legacy of his one-time nemesis turned mentor and friend, Apollo Creed?
As the film opens, we see a young boy in trouble. He can’t stop fighting. A mysterious woman (Rashad) shows up and offers him a home away from juvie and foster care. But she’s not just any woman. She is the widow of Apollo Creed, and the boy, Adonis Johnson, is Creed’s illegitimate son.
Apollo died before Adonis was born, and when Adonis (Jordan) grows up as a Creed, it’s no longer the story you expect. With his new home and lifestyle, it’s not the tale of a kid from the streets trying to make good. Adonis is smart, and successful, and has everything…but the urge to fight cannot be suppressed.
He secretly boxes in Mexico, in broken-down dives where he amasses an undefeated record while never using the name Creed, but wanting more, he quits his job, leaves home, and heads to Philadelphia. He knows the man he needs to get him where he wants to be.
When we last saw Rocky, he was widowed and running a restaurant bearing his beloved wife’s name. He’s still there, and shocked to learn that Apollo had another son. Adonis needs training and support. Rocky is done with the game. But he warms to the young man who calls him “unc”, and soon starts showing Adonis how it’s done. Old school, of course.
Adonis also finds romance with his neighbor Bianca (Thompson), a pretty young songstress who is going deaf. All the while, he tries to keep the legacy of his name a secret. But some secrets are too big to stay hidden.
When the current light heavyweight champ (Bellew) finds himself on the brink of a long prison sentence, effectively ending his fighting career, he seeks out one last big name fight to secure his name and fortune, and as fate would have it, knowing that Apollo Creed’s son is now up-and-coming (with only one “official” victory), the challenge is made.
But, as Rocky points out, Adonis’ biggest opponent is not the champ…it’s himself. Adonis will have to come to terms with who he is, and believe that he can carve out his own piece of the Creed legacy. But all is not well…Rocky is facing an opponent of his own, and not one that goes down easily.
What. A. MOVIE. I loved every moment of this deep, inspiring story that takes the legacy of Rocky and builds a decisive new chapter for it. No disrespect to former Rocky directors like John G. Avildsen or Stallone himself, but the series never had a filmmaker like Ryan Coogler. His sense of grittiness and pace is unmatched, and he puts his own style on the story, without intruding on what it’s supposed to be.
Case in point: Adonis’ first professional fight. Boxing in movies is always about the editing, but here, we see the entire fight played out WITHOUT a cut. The camera swirls and dodges and weaves, and follows the action from center ring to the corners without stopping. I’ve never seen anything like it before…exhilarating is almost too small a word.
But it’s the characters and performers that really bring out the heart in Coogler’s story. Michael B. Jordan is a real find as the lean and angry Adonis, who has both a big heart and a big chip on his shoulder.
And not enough can be said about Stallone…returning to the role that earned him his first Oscar nomination, it might just be the performance that earns him the statue. If you’re willing to dismiss that notion by saying it’s just the same character he’s been playing for 40 years, you REALLY need to see the depth and emotion he brings to the aging celebrity. You’ve seen Rocky before, but you’ve never seen Stallone at this caliber.
And let’s face it…we all know Rocky can’t go on forever, as a fighter or as a film franchise, but secretly, most of us want more. If Creed doesn’t end here, but instead runs with a new mantle, I’ll be there, gladly cheering on a new underdog hero who learned from the best.
Coogler’s style is realistic and urbane, and every scene is filled with grit and detail, even when inside the mansion of Apollo. This high definition transfer radiates with simmering energy in all scenes.
I wasn’t expecting a lot from this uncompressed audio, figuring it would be mostly dialogue and a few fight scenes, but I’ve rarely heard a movie as expertly mixed as this one. The sound follows the camera, and uses the rear channels in remarkable ways to keep you not just at ringside, but dead center in the ring. It’s ambience on speed…remarkable dynamic range, powerful bass signal, and well-rendered dialogue throughout.
The extras include a look back at the Rocky legacy, a piece on Jordan becoming the new Creed, and some deleted scenes.
Creed is a love letter to an enduring movie franchise, and more than worthy of picking up the champion’s belt and wearing it proudly. This is one of the best films of the year. A must-see.