An amateur boxer wants to be a champion, so he finds an old trainer to help him out. Overnight, he goes from local fights to the biggest stage in the world and has a chance to make his dream a reality. That should sound familiar, since it is the plot of Rocky, the underdog boxing movie that won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar. But 40 years later, it is the story for a new generation of actors and filmmakers thanks to Creed.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, the son of the late Apollo Creed. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) tracks down a young Adonis in a Los Angeles youth facility after his biological mother, a woman Creed had an affair with, dies. She takes Adonis in, but can’t stop his urge to fight in the ring.
After realizing that he can run from his link to a famous boxer by going to Philadelphia, Adonis decides to approach Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks him to become his trainer. Rocky reluctantly accepts, setting Adonis on a very familiar journey all the way to the top.
Yes, everything that has been said about the film being just a retelling of the first Rocky is completely true. But director/co-writer Ryan Coogler showed with his first film, Fruitvale Station (also starring Jordan), that he can take a known story and do something different with it. For Coogler, it’s all about using his skills to tell the audience a story we already know without us realizing that. By making Adonis a well-rounded character who is different enough from Rocky or Apollo, it makes it easy to forget that he is following essentially the same trajectory as his mentor. Adonis even falls in love during his journey, falling for singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) as he trains.
Coogler also has the storytelling skills to make the film feel so different from the past Rocky movies. Since Adonis comes from the world of fame and fortune in Hollywood, Creed has an extra outsider element to it. He is not from Philadelphia like Rocky was and the film doesn’t have the gritty, realistic look that Rocky had. Instead, this movie is all about flash and style, with exciting cinematography from Maryse Alberti. The film’s third fight is even done in a single take, with the camera moving all over the ring with the fighters.
The performances from Jordan, Thompson and Stallone are also fantastic. Jordan once again proves that he has deserved the success he’s found, as he puts in the hard work it takes to become a believable fighter on the screen. Even though he is fighting against real boxers (current cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew plays Ricky Conlan, for example), it never looks unbelievable. Stallone does surprisingly deserve the acclaim, since he could have just coasted in the role he created 40 years ago. Instead, he’s as much invested in Creed as everyone else is and his performance shows it.
Creed hits Blu-ray on March 1, with 19 minutes of deleted sequences and two pieces about the making of the film that add up to less than half an hour. That’s unfortunate, since it would have been really fascinating to hear a commentary from Coogler and Stallone about how this movie even came to be.
Creed successfully revived the Rocky franchise by deciding not to reinvent the wheel, just refining it and giving it a good spin once again. Coogler and Jordan proved that franchise’s format is still viable today. Never – ever – underestimate a good underdog story because those are the ones that last.