Movie Review: CREED (2015)
Just when you thought Rocky Balboa was down for the count—.
That’s right. Rocky Balboa, the iconic character played by Sylvester Stallone, is back in the movies again for what is essentially ROCKY VII, except this time he’s playing mentor and trainer to young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) the son of his one-time opponent and later best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
CREED (2015) opens with troubled teen Adonis Johnson getting in yet another fight. This time, instead of being taken in by a foster family, he meets the wife Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) of his father Apollo Creed, who had an extramarital affair with Adonis’ mom and died before Adonis was born. Mary Anne adopts Adonis and he’s raised in a healthy home and receives a decent education.
However, as an adult, Adonis can’t get boxing out of his system, so he quits his job and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as a trainer. Rocky isn’t interested, mostly because he doesn’t want to see Apollo’s son enter a boxing ring and endure the difficult life of a boxer. But Adonis is persistent, and eventually Rocky relents and agrees to train Adonis.
Adonis trains hard, and through an odd series of events, finds himself with a shot at the boxing title. When Rocky’s health fails, and he decides he’s lived a good life and has come to the end of the road, it’s Adonis who convinces Rocky not to mail it in, to fight for his life as he once fought for a title, adding that he needs Rocky and that Rocky’s life matters.
Make no mistake. CREED is a much better movie than a 7th film in a series. It’s also a stand alone film, as Adonis’ character is strong enough to carry this movie on his own. Rocky’s appearance is gravy.
That being said, the best part of CREED is the relationship between Rocky and Adonis. The way their lives intertwine and how they are constantly there to pick each other up is the driving force of the movie. When Rocky learns that he has cancer, and he looks around him and realizes all his loved ones and friends have passed on, it’s easy for him to feel that he’s led a good life and it’s time. But it’s Adonis who gives him something to live for.
Likewise, when Adonis struggles to handle the pressure, and when he experiences doubt that he can live up to his deceased father’s name, even admitting that he’s fighting simply to prove that he wasn’t just a mistake, it’s Rocky who tells him that it is his time, that he can make his mark, and he can live up to his father’s name.
Sylvester Stallone can play Rocky Balboa in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean he’s cashing it in. Stallone has created one of the more endearing and iconic characters in film history, and Rocky certainly hasn’t worn out his welcome. It’s been fun to watch Rocky age through the years, and in CREED he definitely is in his golden years. A funny bit comes when Rocky writes out instructions for Adonis, and Adonis simply takes a picture of the paper with his phone, and he tells Rocky he doesn’t need the notes because they’re saved on the cloud.
“The cloud?” Rocky asks, as he looks to the sky.
Michael B. Jordan is also excellent as young Adonis Johnson. Adonis is a complicated character. He had a tough childhood, was rescued by his step-mom, but still couldn’t shake the desire to box, to be like his deceased dad. And he goes through the film with a chip on his shoulder, but he’s not a jerk, as Jordan does a nice job keeping the character sympathetic.
Rounding out the acting performances is Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca. The beautiful Thompson makes Bianca a three-dimensional character who proves that she’s more than just a love interest in the film. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca is reminiscent of the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) in the original ROCKY (1976).
Likewise, in the training scenes, Rocky now has taken on the role of his original trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith). In fact, many of the training exercises come right out of Mickey’s regimen, including the memorable chicken chasing scene.
Phylicia Rashad is decent as Adonis’ step-mom Mary Anne, although it’s really just a small role, and there’s not a lot of screen time for Rashad.
And if there’s one thing the Rocky movies have always got right, it’s the boxing scenes, and CREED is no exception. Once more, there are some riveting boxing matches, including the exciting finale. Sure, there is certainly a little bit of “been there, done that” but with six Rocky movies before this, that’s inevitable.
CREED is the first ROCKY movie not written by Sylvester Stallone. The screenplay was written by director Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, and it’s a good one. It explores a later chapter in Rocky’s life while carving out the early plight of original character Adonis Johnson, and the way the two interact is both compelling and natural. The two stories combine seamlessly
Coogler also directed, and his direction is strong throughout. The boxing scenes are well done, as are the rousing training sequences. More importantly, the tale of the two boxers, Rocky called out of retirement to be a trainer, and Adonis just starting his career, is engrossing and likable.
CREED is a genuine crowd-pleaser. It’s a worthy addition to the ROCKY saga, while also serving as a standalone film about newcomer Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, fighting to make his mark in the boxing world, to prove that he’s worthy of the name Creed.