Sylvester Stallone’s recent Golden Globe award shows he’s still got some snap left in his jab. We thought Sly was done with Rocky after the underrated and well received “Rocky Balboa” premiered in 2006. Make no mistake. Despite the title, “Creed” is a “Rocky” movie. There have been seven of them and after the iconic original, II and III were great, IV was really good, and V was pretty bad. Despite the stretch of seeing a 60 year-old Stallone in the ring, “Rocky Balboa” would have been a nice capstone for the character but “Creed” pulls more out of the old boxer than we thought he had left. After the Golden Globe win, an Oscar nomination (Jan 14, 2016) would not be surprising.
Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, the son Apollo Creed never knew he had and Adonis seems born to fight even before his troubled childhood brings it out of him. He’s taken in by Apollo’s wife after his biological mother (an extra marital affair of Apollo’s) passes away and raised to be anything but a boxer. We begin with the now grown “Donnie” fighting in Tijuana dives on the weekends from his suit and tie 9-5 job. He’s 15-0 south of the border and driven to step up and commit to a real boxing career.
His first attempt at being taken seriously falls flat in L.A. at the gym where his father made his name. Coupled with Mrs. Creed getting him effectively blackballed from the L.A. boxing scene, this moves him to seek out his father’s rival and friend for training. A reluctant Rocky is still puttering around his restaurant and firmly set in his routine in Philly. He’s also got Mickey’s gym up and running and it looks to be thriving when “Hollywood Donnie” sees it for the first time. Seeing the gym humming with activity, well lit and dressed in Rocky’s classic black and gold livery is a far cry from the dim, shrine to the old school hall of pain and sweat that we know from back in the day.
Donnie gets himself a dinky little apartment downstairs from a hot, up and coming singer/songwriter and their meet/cute is perfunctory but Tessa Thompson as Bianca brings just enough Adrian into her mix that we roll with her and this relationship. There need to be serious boxing shenanigans to get a nobody with 15 fights in Tijuana a legitimate title fight, even one with Apollo Creed’s DNA and such shenanigans ensue. But Jordan and Stallone are so very good together that the kerfuffle is completely secondary to what we know has to happen.
Once the fight is signed, the training montages commence and “Creed” really hits it stride. To this point, the soundtrack has been thoroughly modern urban music with subtle hints of the original “Rocky” score but the big number has been conspicuously absent. No matter, director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”, the upcoming “Black Panther”), moves the story smoothly along very familiar lines for fans of the series (yes, “Rocky” is a series now) but with a new eye and ear for the tale.
The glue for all of this is Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Rocky might be an imaginary friend to Stallone but he’s been made real for the rest of us through years of Sly’s ongoing commitment to the character. Rocky’s always underrated street smarts have morphed into a literally hard fought wisdom for the ages since he hung up his gloves. Stallone appears completely at peace with the life they have shared since 1977 and when he decides to train Donnie, Rocky channels his inner Mickey Goldmill and the movie is off to the races.
There is a dramatic subplot that qualifies as a spoiler, so I will not mention it but nothing outrageous that would have tainted a movie directed in less sure hands than Coogler’s. I’m really looking forward to his turn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially with the Black Panther. Oh yeah, when the first notes of “Gonna Fly Now” finally do hit, it’s goddam beautiful and “Creed” cements it’s rightful place in the “Rocky” canon planting it’s sequel flag strongly into the cinematic future. There will be a “Creed 2” and fates permitting, all parties will come together to move this story forward in the fresh direction this one pointed to.
“Creed” is rated PG-13
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