Review by Robert T. Trate
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler (screenplay), Aaron Covington (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (characters)
Running time: 133 minutes
Year of release: 2015
Sometimes it takes perspective, time and a whole new generation to tell the next installment. Who else would be willing to tackle the seventh installment of a film saga? No, I am not talking about JJ Abrams and his Star Wars film. I am talking about Ryan Cooler’s Creed (aka Rocky VII). The difference between JJ Abrams and Ryan Coogler is that the Rockyfranchise ended on a high note. In 2006 Sylvester Stallone gave us a Rocky film was a great swan song for a character. The entire world not only idolizes, but loves Rocky. Was there anything left to tell after that? Yes.
Creed, if you are a fan of the Rocky story and probably already have guessed, is the story of Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Born out of wedlock and after Apollo died, Creed is Adonis’ Rocky story. Taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) and raised as her own child, Adonis escapes the foster homes and streets of LA to become a fine up standing citizen, or so his step-mother would think. Adonis sneaks off to Tijuana and participates in boxing matches there. After gaining a name for himself and several victories under his belt, Adonis wants to turn pro. The issue is that no one wants to train him. Adonis travels to Philadelphia and turns to his father’s best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), for help. The Rocky we find in Creed, is a sadder and lonelier one than we had in Rocky Balboa (2006). His best friend, Pauly (Burt Young), has passed and Rocky’s son has left Philadelphia to make a name for himself. Adonis’ proposal suddenly becomes a reason for Rocky to feel alive again.
We’ve been to this well six times before and depending on your level of fandom for these movies, only one time has been outright terrible (Rocky V). What breaks the mold and re-invents the story is making Rocky the secondary character. This is clearly the story of Adonis Creed and his journey to becoming his own man. If the film would have started with Rocky seeking out the troubled son of his best friend and raising him, it would have been a Rocky story. Instead, we see the whole film from Adonis’ perspective. He is man who has everything, as one trainer points out. That trainer doesn’t believe he is hungry enough to see his dream all the way through. So when one person (Rocky) takes that chance on Adonis, he has to prove it. That story could have easily swung the same way it did with Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) in Rocky V. Adonis gets his title shot and leaves Rocky behind. To Coogler’s credit, he made us care about Adonis’ character, believe in his struggle, and remember that he is our hero so when that shot does happen, he won’t make a move without Rocky’s okay. That scene alone makes the film, but there is more. So much more.
The entire film breaks conventions that are not only part of the Rocky franchise, but film in general. In fleshing out Adonis’ character, he gets a love interest which could play out in numerous scenarios. Coogler’s script keeps it light, but realistic, as Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has her own dreams. Bianca is more of a modern Adrian and one that many female members of the audience will appreciate. What was also refreshing was how each one of the fights (inevitable in a film with boxing in it) was unpredictable. After six of these movies, I had no clue how they would end, not even the final one for that fact. Coogler also took us closer to action than had ever been done before in a Rocky film. This might be because of new technologies and better cameras, but the takes are long with next to no cuts. You won’t notice it at first, but by the final bell, you see it.
Sylvester Stallone’s nomination is well deserved. In fact, he should win. With that being said, I don’t think Stallone gets that nomination without the incredible screenplay and direction of Ryan Coogler. However, Stallone is not only sparring with getting old, but holding his own in nearly every scene with Michael B. Jordan. This is a star turning performance and one that is perfectly timed to make you forget he was in a superhero film just a few months prior to Creed’s release. It is both Jordan and Stallone that make you believe in the power and message in not only this film, but all that “Rocky” represents. Again, no small feat for the seventh installment of a franchise.
In living so close to Philadelphia all my life, Rocky movies, all of them, mean a little bit more to this fan. Rocky was a movie that was not shot in some distant city or far off place that I would never visit. I’ve run the museum steps when the statue was at the top and have been back several times to visit “the Rock” now that he is at the bottom. All of our sports teams play the scene where Adrian (Talia Shire) tells Rocky to win when we are behind, it drives us crazy and we actually believe that our team can and will win. I have even seen Stallone in person and there is something insane about seeing “Rocky” with thousands of people of cheering “Rocky… Rocky… Rocky…”. Creed could have tarnished all of that. It doesn’t. In fact, outside of the final moments of both Rocky and Rocky II, this is the only other film in the franchise to make we well up and hold back the tears.
Coogler… you did it!
Own CREED on Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD on March 1 or Own It Early on Digital HD now!