Directed by Ryan Coogler
Anyone who wants to take jabs at all sequels for being unoriginal and talentless has a pretty successful 2015 to contend with. “Mad Max” and James Bond, “Mission Impossible” and “Furious 7.” But look no further than “Creed.” For a movie all about making a name for yourself, “Creed” practices what it preaches. By referencing the gargantuan “Rocky” franchise in all the best ways, the follow-up nine years in the making brings back everything we loved about the best boxer in cinema history. But by showcasing Michael B. Jordan’s tremendous talent, “Creed” also stands alone. It doesn’t need Rocky. But they’re better together.
Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) grew up in foster homes and juvenile detention centers around Los Angeles until the wife of his late father Apollo, Mary Anne Creed (a marvelous Phylicia Rashad), takes him in. He gets the education he deserves and starts a career at a successful financial company, boxing on the side, until he decides he needs to devote his life to his fighting. He finds his way to Philadelphia, seeking out the one man who can train him as well as his own father might have, the man who beat Apollo Creed: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). When an anxious British fighter, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), hits his opponent at the weigh-in before his big HBO fight, he breaks the guy’s jaw. So he needs a new opponent. But he needs an easy win and a big audience, so he calls upon the American with the famous father. But Creed is far from ready to take on the reigning champ. With the help of Rocky and his new girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), he’ll get his mind and body ready for the fight of his life.
Director Ryan Coogler told an important story with 2013’s “Fruitvale Station.” That was also Michael B. Jordan’s big introduction. But Coogler’s “Creed” script feels uninspired. The story is sort of formulaic and predictable. But his direction is the total opposite. The best directors never waste a shot. In “Creed,” Coogler even revisits his best shots for a full-circle effect. The 29-year-old knows what he’s doing. Maybe Jordan feels more comfortable working with Coogler again. It sure looks that way. Jordan gives a career best performance, a stark contrast to the franchise-killer “Fantastic 4” he starred in earlier this year. He’s on his way to the A-list. Creed had to live up to his name, but sharing a name with someone famous is nothing new to Michael Jordan. As he makes a name for Creed, Jordan takes a huge step toward making a name for himself. Sylvester Stallone was born to play Rocky. You can’t fault him for not being a terrific actor, because Rocky isn’t a polished, graceful guy. But here, Stallone gives his best performance in probably twenty years. He shows emotion, and he gives Rocky his perfect final bow. He gives “Creed” a spot amongst the “Rocky” films of old. Thompson is a wonderful addition to the story. Her unique character falls into some formula traps, as the lover of an athlete. But she fights through the archetype and gives her character a spot among the boys.
“Creed” is the best boxing movie since “The Fighter.” It’s full of beautifully-filmed fight scenes that put you in the ring, an active participant in the action. The soundtrack is the stuff of your favorite workout playlist, plus a score that’s reminiscent of that trumpeting “Rocky” theme. It has the best training montage I’ve seen in a while. It’s irresistibly good entertainment that you can’t help but cheer for—I know the crowd in my theater did. “Creed” exceeded all of my expectations. It’s a unanimous winner.