Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. (From IMDb)
Review: Rocky Balboa appeared on screen forty years ago, yet he remains a popular icon. Why? Evolving narratives. Sylvester Stallone has managed to keep the character relevant by evolving the storyline. Characters and narratives have to evolve in order to stay relevant. Creed not only brings the Rocky franchise back into the mainstream-not that it ever really left-it also helps to introduce the classic underdog story to the next generation. Rocky is not my favorite sports movie, my brothers had to twist my arm to make me watch all the movies. However, the franchise remains a favorite due the values and character consistency displayed in the narrative. Rocky remains essentially the same person throughout all the films, which is why he is such a great character. This trait seems to be continued in Creed.
The original Rocky film was released in 1976 and went on to win 3 Oscars, including Best Picture. This was the first time a sports movie won the Best Picture category. However, the simplicity and down-to-earth feel of the first movie has become slightly overshadowed by the more bombastic and flashy sequels. Production values clearly increased over time, the first movie was made on a shoe string budget. The first movie depicts Rocky as a mumbling, sweet-natured guy who gets a shot at fame via the world of boxing. Subsequent sequels saw Rocky take on Mr T, the Soviet Union, talking robots, and street fighters. Creed returns to the simplicity of the first movie: a study of determination and grit. This time the protagonist is Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s rival Apollo Creed. Rocky takes on the mentoring role as he reluctantly trains the next great boxing legend.
An opening flashback scene introduces Adonis Johnson as an adolescent with violent tendencies. He is in a LA juvenile detention center; busted for fighting, apparently a regular occurrence. One day he receives a visit from Mary Anne Creed (played by Phylicia Rashad), the widow of Apollo Creed. Adonis is her husband’s illegitimate son and she wants to give him the chance to live a normal life. Flash forward to the present and Adonis, now known as Donnie, is still living with Mary Anne and attempting to work a traditional 9-to-5 job. He spends his evenings in Tijuana participating in black market fights. He decides to be honest with himself and quits the professional job he cannot quite work up any enthusiasm for. He leaves Mary Anne’s house and heads out to Philadelphia in the hopes of convincing Rocky Balboa to train him how to box. Rocky is living a quiet existence. He runs his restaurant and visits Adrian’s grave. It takes a lot of convincing to get Rocky to train Donnie. But when he does, a new legend begins to emerge.
Creed is not a Rocky movie in the traditional sense. Rocky is a retiring character that sits out of the spotlight and mentors from the sidelines. But the movie captures the spirit of the original Rocky movie. Donnie represents the values of hard work, determination, self-control, and the forging of one’s own identity. It was refreshing to watch a modern dramatic movie that actually included an inspiring message. Not everything has to be all doom and gloom all the times. Adonis is a great character. Boxing is in his blood and he just wants to fight. Despite his best efforts to lead a different life, he cannot escape the lure of the ring. He watches his father’s fights and mirrors all the punches thrown by Rocky Balboa. None of this father’s old crew will train him; so he begins to train himself. Then he goes and finds the one person who might believe in his talent. Through all of this he never loses his determination to make something of himself, independent of his father’s reputation. At first Adonis tries to keep his parentage under wraps, but his parentage eventually leaks information leaks, and he is offered an underdog shot at the title. This causes Donnie to undergo a major readjustment as he fears not living up to his father’s legacy. Michael B Jordan does an excellent job bringing Donnie to life. He projects the right amount of insecurity and strong sense of self.
Stallone plays one of his best roles in a long time. The older Rocky is a worn out rock star who dons glasses and rads a newspaper while dispensing advice to a jump roping Donnie. Rocky is now the old timer who trains up the new guy in the tried and trued method. Stallone does a great job making Rocky both steely and vulnerable at the same time. Rocky vacillates between stubbornness and an all encompassing loneliness. All in all, a surprisingly nuanced performance. Tessa Thompson portrays Bianca, the requisite love interest. Bianca is the aspiring singer-songwriter who live in the apartment below Donnie’s. She is a good stabilizing foil to Donnie’s brashness. Thompson holds her own and makes the most of her slightly stilted character.
Like all excellent boxing movies, the boxing matches were well executed and felt real. Part of this was achieved by including a lot of actual boxers into the movie. “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, Adonis’ big opponent, was played by actual British boxer Tony Bellew. Other real life boxers included in the movie were Tyrone Crawley Jr, Malik Bazille, Gabriel Rosado, and Andre Ward. This is a bit of break from the other Rocky movies, usually highly convincing actors portrayed the boxing opponents. Michael B Jordan wen through several months of boxing training and got into incredible shape for the film. He looks and moves like a boxer. Overall, this is an excellent underdog story. I would highly recommend this film to both Rocky enthusiasts and anyone else looking for an inspiring narrative.