There's been few movies this holiday season that have been as strong and as aggressive as Ryan Coogler’s Creed, the seventh chapter in the long-standing Rocky series of boxing films. Creed pulses with the kinetic energy, the ebb and flow of a title bout that not only passes the boxing torch to a new fighter, but also further enhances the mythos of the Italian stallion.
Clearly, Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) is far too old to get back in the ring; by the time we rejoin him in Creed, he has since withdrawn from his international fame to manage a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in Philly – an establishment where the walls are lined with monochrome prints of his most famous fights. Rocky now prefers a relaxed lifestyle in relative solitude, and he rests comfortably on his laurels.
But enter Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan, doing a fantastic job here), a young adult who was previously rescued from a children’s correctional facility by mother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad). Raised in wealth and splendor in Los Angeles, Adonis grows into a fine man, even earning himself a huge promotion in his banking firm.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Rocky recognizes Mary's last name: indeed, Adonis is the son of the great and late Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), one of Rocky's greatest opponents, and the big matchup of his first film. Taking after his father, Adonis is bit by the fighting bug, even making weekly pilgrimages to Tijuana, Mexico to box in money matches, purely for the sport.
Shortly after his promotion, Adonis realizes his true passion (much to his mother's dismay), hangs up the tie, and flies across the country to find Rocky, asking him to train him. Once he recognizes Adonis' bloodline, Rocky obliges and gets back into the sport he thought he finished.
While Adonis is purely motivated with a desire to prove himself a great fighter, he refuses to take on his father's last name in his matches, preferring not to ride on his father's reputation. His unmatched, fiery resolve, combined with a staunch work ethic, makes him an invigorating protagonist. It’s a character image that closely mirrors his trainer; Rocky, too, was once an unproven fighter, and you already know the rest. This parallelism between fighter and trainer gives Creed extra dimensionality and perspective; we are witnessing the birth of a new hero under the wings of a legendary one, and a familiar story is made new again. Creed is not only a new and exciting film, but a nostalgic one as well, and Adonis is the perfect, ideal hero.
This is not to say that the talented Jordan steals the show: Stallone successfully plays his timeless role in a new light; here, Rocky is played not with brute physicality, but through showcasing his age, his past informing his present decisions, and being a talented, but not infallible, mentor. While Adonis fights in the ring, Rocky fights his own battles outside of it. Even though he no longer dons the boxing gloves, Rocky is given new life, and a classic movie character has an extremely touching coming-of-age arc.
They’re obstacles on the way to preparing Adonis – christened with the nickname “Hollywood” to call back to his Los Angeles upbringing – for his once-in-a-lifetime fight with the undefeated ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew, a championship boxer in the real world as well). Of course, the boxing movie is incomplete without the title match, but Creed's fight is something different altogether, being moving, unpredictable, and downright electrifying.
The boxing film is no stranger to love as well, and Adonis has his romance spark when he meets next-floor neighbor and musician Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an eye-catcher and motivated character in her own right. They form a relationship that, like a great boxing match, also features its painful ups and downs, some of which bleeds into Adonis' fighting and demeanor.
Yet Adonis and Rocky remain center stage in this one-of-a-kind boxing flick that is not only a successful continuation of a beloved franchise (the film has just the right amount of touching callbacks to the original movies), but a promising start for a new story. In Creed, it’s never about whether Adonis wins or loses his big match, but the fact that he must prove himself to himself– a sentiment we have seen before, but one that Creed delivers in the best, most memorable way. Creed is an instant classic that should not be missed.
Written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington.
Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.