From the very start, Creed seemed like a really stellar idea. Its based on a story from Ryan Coogler, the writer-director of the 2013 indie-darling Fruitvale Station, and was announced right after I saw the film in theaters that summer. The only thing that made me a bit reluctant was to see Sylvester Stallone back in the role of Rocky Balboa, because the last time he played Balboa as a trainer, it didn’t end well for both the character and the audience (Rocky V for folks who didn’t catch on). It’s been nearly 10 years since the last Rocky film, Rocky Balboa, which was a good sendoff to the character that could’ve been great. The fact that the next film is in the hands of a filmmaker like Coogler, and his leading man Michael B. Jordan as the titular character, you know that this will (hopefully) be pretty good. Here’s my review of Creed.
Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the iligitimate son of Apollo Creed, who fought Rocky in the first two films and later became his friend until his death in Rocky IV. Adonis (who goes by Donny) is an aspiring boxer, but doesn’t tell people that he’s the offspring of the legendary boxer. After quitting his job in Los Angeles, Donny heads to Philadelphia to track down Apollo’s old friend, Rocky Balboa, played once again by Stallone. Balboa helps Creed train into a boxer all the way until the finale, when Creed must fight the biggest name in boxing.
What could’ve made Creed fall apart is the over two-hour length of the film, but Coogler is able to keep the pacing and characters fresh when if in the hands of another filmmaker, would make you constantly check your watch every waking minute. I was never bored watching Creed, particularly for the performances, directing and writing in the film. Jordan continues to be one of Hollywood’s more under-appreciated leading men, and Coogler continues to prove himself as one of our generations finest filmmakers. Coogler (as of writing) is current in-talks to make Black Panther for Marvel, and I couldn’t think of a better filmmaker to tackle that material. Let’s hope that Marvel will give Coogler room to stretch his cinematic muscles like Stallone did in this film.
Speaking of Stallone, his most recent performance as The Italian Stallion is maybe his best portrayal of the character yet, as well as Stallone’s finest acting achievement throughout a 40+ year career of Rocky and mediocre action films. Stallone portrays Rocky as a man whose lost his wife and his best friend in the past couple of years, but isn’t bitter about it. He continues to own Adrian’s Resturant in Phillie, and still owns those pet turtles. He’s a man that’s been through a lot in his life, and has some pretty big turtles ahead of him in this film that I won’t spoil, but portrays Rocky in his most vulnerable state, and Stallone gives it his all in the role. The role brought me to tears in a few scenes, which is saying a lot from an actor who I’ve always considered to be a bit of a punching bag for several years (no pun intended). If I had my way, and there’s a lot of momentum around it that it may very well happen, but Stallone should get the Oscar for the role. Not only would it be overdue for him never winning an Oscar for the first Rocky (he lost to Peter Finch for Network, which was the far superior performance of 1976), but also because it’s just a great performance, period.
The film, however, isn’t perfect. The first 20 minutes to me felt kind of awkward, and the film didn’t really start to get interesting until Donny met Rocky. It feels like Coogler had definitely shot well over two hours of a movie, and it felt like there were scenes that were cut out that maybe should’ve been in there. Early on in the film we’re introduced to Bianca, Donny’s neighbor and love interest played by Tessa Thompson. In her first scene, they act like they had already met before, which may have been the case but that first introduction was mysteriously cut out of the final product.
Nit-picking aside, Creed is one of the best films of 2015, primarily for Stallone’s beautiful (final?) performance as Rocky Balboa. If the film gets nominated for anything at the Academy Awards next month, it sure as hell better be for Stallone’s performance. It’s also a beautifully directed film, with Coogler directing some of the most exciting boxing sequences I’ve seen on film in some time. It was great to see boxing shot in such an exciting way, since David O. Russell’s boxing sequences in The Fighter were easily the worst parts of the film. Definitely go see Creed if you’re a fan of the Rocky movies because it’s the best Rocky film since the original, and definitely go see it because it’s a flat-out great film with arguably the best performance of 2015.