For fans of the Rocky franchise, it is easy to recommend Creed.
There is something comfortably quaint about the Rocky franchise. Despite diminishing returns in quality, even the inferior sequels have something that makes us want to cheer for their success. Even if Rambo may appeal more to the bloodthirsty xenophobes slathering for a Trump or Carson presidency, Sylvester Stallone’s sweet, not-so-bright pugilist is his career role. But charisma can only carry a franchise so far. It appeared the series was DOA following the moderately well-received Rocky Balboa in 2006. With its star now pushing 70, how could the franchise continue?
Not so fast. Writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) came up with an ingenious way to keep the Rocky legacy alive in Creed. Starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, Coogler found a way to keep Rocky’s legacy alive without rebooting or remaking the series. Not only does Coogler create one of Stallone’s strongest roles since the original film, he also introduces us to a new character who could quite possibly carry his own franchise.
When we first meet Adonis Creed (Jordan), he is a young man in trouble for constantly fighting at the juvenile detention center where he lives. Enter Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad, not looking a day older than when she appeared on “The Cosby Show”), the wife of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s rival and friend who was killed in the fourth part of the series. Though Adonis was born from an affair, Mary Anne offers to take him in and care for him like a son. But Adonis is a scrapper and has the love of fighting in his veins. Despite the posh upbringing Mary Anne gives him, the young man still travels to Mexico on the weekends to take part in boxing matches.
Even though the boy has everything provided for him, he quits his job and travels to Philadelphia to seek out Rocky Balboa, much to Mary Anne’s chagrin. The motivation to get Adonis in the ring, that fighting is hereditary, is a little weak. Once the ball starts rolling, however, the film lands us in familiar (and comfortable) territory. Rocky, now running a restaurant, must be coaxed into training the young man. Once he does, Creed more or less follows the same formula that netted Rocky a Best Picture Oscar.
Making the jump from indie darling to big budget director works for Coogler, even if Creed lacks the edge of his debut, Fruitvale Station. He is more experimental than the folks who directed the Rocky films, unafraid to film a match in an uninterrupted take and even turning the age-old montage into something exciting.
The addition of Stallone bridges the gap between Creed and the other Rocky films. In the first Balboa script not penned by Stallone himself, Coogler does an admirable job remaining true to the character and the lore of the series. With no directing or writing duties, Stallone can use his time to concentrate on embodying the character. This is a Rocky beaten down by time and loss, and Stallone sinks his teeth into the role. The movie wouldn’t work, however, if Jordan wasn’t such a dynamic actor. His Adonis is the perfect foil for Rocky, and together they elevate the sometimes trite material.
For fans of the Rocky franchise, it is easy to recommend Creed. For those of us who grew up watching Stallone fighting Carl Weathers, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren, Creed taps into the same nostalgic feeling we get revisiting those films. Things have also come full circle as Stallone’s Rocky has taken the place that once belonged to Mickey (Burgess Meredith) in the first film. Yet, Coogler isn’t a hack out there simply to make the studios money, and Jordan is one of the best young actors out there. Creed goes the distance and then some.