Film Review: ‘Creed’

When the newest addition to the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed,” was announced, fans couldn’t help but wonder if this new installment would breathe life into a series that had been run into the ground with sequels, or simply build on to the unfortunate trend.

But the reality is, “Creed” isn’t the next Rocky movie. It’s the first “Creed” movie. And it’s a damn good one.

Michael B. Jordan, best-known for his work on “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” is cast as Adonis Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed. Adonis is trying to make it on his own, afraid of the Creed name and the expectations that come with it, so he abandons his office job in Los Angeles, begins going by Adonis Johnson, and goes to Philadelphia to train with Rocky.

The filmmakers had the unique responsibility to pay homage to the original films, but pressure to make it stand alone. Director and writer Ryan Coogler masterfully toes that line, bringing in elements from the early films without letting it dominate the movie. Adonis may chase a chicken as part of his training like in “Rocky II,” but training montages aren’t merely a shot-for-shot remake, which would have been easy to do.

Stallone deserves serious consideration for Best Supporting Actor this year. He abandons the hyperbolic Italian character he portrayed in the early films for a milder, subtler Rocky that allows Jordan to shine while the former provides the training and, at times, heart and soul of the film. Rocky is fighting his own battles in the film, giving him his own struggles to go along with Adonis’ training. It’s hard to believe that it’s the year 2015 and Stallone is relevant in a “Rocky” franchise film, but here we are.

“Creed” will be remembered partly as Jordan’s breakout movie performance. He is able to portray Adonis as both deeply driven and tough while simultaneously vulnerable. His co-star and love interest, Tessa Thompson, plays a musician with progressive hearing loss. Her character is more well-rounded than Rocky’s wife, Adrian, was. She has her own goals and is driven in her own way, leading to a stronger character. Her storyline will become more interesting in the possible and more-than-likely sequels.

The true beauty of the film came from the decision to utilize tracking shots throughout. One of the first glimpses we get of Adonis is an underground fight in Tijuana, which is designed to look like one consistent shot from his stretching to his walk to the ring and finally the fight itself. The camera follows them around the ring, creating a realistic looking fight and capturing the grittiness that each fighter shows in their reactions.

The music took a turn from the classic “Rocky” films. While the earlier films featured classic rock and instrumentals, this film’s soundtrack was composed of songs from rappers such as Meek Mill and Future. The music fits well and continues the tradition of strong music to guide viewers through the famous training montages and even more emotional parts of the films.

The emotional pinnacle comes at the end of Adonis’ training, in a slow-motion run through the streets where he is followed by local dirt bike riders, who stop with him and cheer as he shadow-boxes and Rocky looks on outside of the gym. The scene falls short of its true potential, though, simply because the dirt bike riders aren’t really ever introduced in the film. If they had a back story, or had ever even talked to Adonis, it would have made the scene more meaningful. Instead, it ends up being a really cool scene that ultimately lacked THEsubstance.

“Creed” is as close to a perfect movie as you’ll find for the year. Jordan manages to capture some of the mystique of Apollo, a character who always deserved a spin-off, without fully mimicking his Muhammad Ali-esque swagger. Stallone gives a somber, heartfelt performance in which the chemistry between the two can be sensed throughout.

Fans that saw “Rocky” with their fathers can now enjoy a new film in the same vein with their children. “Creed” recaptures the magic felt in “Rocky” and sets the stage for a new movie franchise that, if handled well, could certainly be something special.

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