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Creed Movie Review

Creed: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Creed is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Creed (2015) movie poster Creed

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2015 / Running Time: 132 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ryan Coogler / Writers: Ryan Coogler (story & Screenplay), Aaron Covington (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (characters)

Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Adonis "Donnie" "Hollywood" Johnson/Creed), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Andre Ward (Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler), Tony Bellew ("Pretty" Ricky Conlan), Ritchie Coster (Pete Sporino), Jacob "Stitch" Duran (Stitch), Graham McTavish (Tommy Holiday), Malik Bazille (Amir), Ricardo McGill (Padman), Gabe Rosado (Leo "The Lion" Soprano), Wood Harris (Tony "Little Duke" Burton)

Buy Creed from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • 2-Disc DVD • Instant Video

Sylvester Stallone has clung to his successes longer than anyone would deem prudent. There were three Rambo movies in a stretch of five years and five Rocky films over the course of fifteen. Then, late last decade, upon entering his sixties, Stallone went back to both wells with untimely sequels in each franchise.
Then he ran The Expendables into the ground with at least one sequel too many.

Now, nine years after Rocky Balboa, here is Creed, yet another Rocky movie. But this one is different, not only because for the first time Rocky is not the lead character and not the one doing the fighting. This is the first film in the nearly 40-year-old boxing franchise not to be written by Stallone himself. The 69-year-old Italian-American has passed the creative reins to Ryan Coogler, a young African-American filmmaker who drew rave reviews for his feature debut, 2013's Fruitvale Station.

The star of that independent drama, Michael B. Jordan, follows Coogler here and fills the titular leading role of Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (played in Rockys I through IV by Carl Weathers), the late world heavyweight champion and dear friend of Rocky Balboa.

In "Creed", Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) trains Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of champion boxer Apollo Creed.

Creed opens in 1998, with a pre-teen Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) getting into fights in juvenile detention. The troubled youth is given a chance at a better life by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad, the third actress to play the part), Apollo's widow (who is not Adonis' mother). In the present day, we see that Adonis (now Jordan) has taken advantage of his opportunities. He has made a killing with a vague office job in the financial industry, but he quits that because it's not doing it for him. Adonis gets his kicks in boxing fights down in Mexico.

He has participated in sixteen of them and won every one.

Having been widowed by the sport, Mary Anne does not approve of Adonis following in his father's footsteps. But he's old enough to make his own decisions and he does just that, deciding to relocate from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, where he leaves behind the comforts of a mansion to rough it out in a gritty urban apartment. There, he finds his father's pal, who has not kept in touch with the other Creeds and doesn't even know of Adonis' existence (he was born after Apollo died). Rocky has hung up his boxing gloves to run Adrian's, a quiet little Italian restaurant, but the persistent Adonis persuades him to train him at his old gym, Mickey's.

Rocky does that, keeping Adonis' heritage a secret per the young man's wishes. But the secret gets out and soon Adonis is a topic of discussion on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" and elsewhere. Adonis' newfound celebrity even lands him a big ticket bout with the world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (real life boxer Tony Bellew), a Liverpudlian who is about to serve a 7-year jail sentence on drug charges. The only catch is that Adonis Johnson must change his name to Adonis Creed. On the side, there is a romance with a music-blaring neighbor with a progressive hearing disorder (Tessa Thompson).

Outside the ring, Donnie Creed (Michael B. Jordan) starts up a romance with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a dreadlocked musician with a progressive hearing disorder.

Creed takes its cues from other dormant or aging franchises like Planet of the Apes, X-Men, and Star Trek that have been revived with a different approach and new personnel. It is undoubtedly the seventh installment in the series: a sequel, not a reboot. But the Rocky-less title makes clear that this is a new beginning, a new generation. It might well not need its own sequel, unless the reception is warm and the demand strong. What is important is that Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington (an English crew member new to writing) are not treating this as just another Rocky movie, but an opportunity to give the world of Rocky contemporary relevance by making a good film that leans on the franchise's lore but stands on its own.

Coogler and company succeed, with seeming ease. Proving that his remarkable debut was no fluke, the writer-director also demonstrates that his vision and skill do not merely lend to a $900 thousand indie. Here, with a budget of $35 million and having to answer to execs from both producing company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and distributor Warner Bros., Coogler does not miss a beat. He brings awareness and respect for Stallone's signature series, but also a willingness to put the Italian Stallion on the sidelines of another brand new character's story.

That absolutely proves to be the right decision, for Creed does not invite comparisons to past Rocky sequels as much as it does to other solid boxing movies. While it's no Raging Bull or The Fighter, it's noticeably better than the more recent likes of Southpaw, the overrated MMA family drama Warrior, and Stallone's own Rocky-flavored geriatric comedy Grudge Match.

Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the son of champion boxer Apollo Creed, who follows in his late father's footsteps.

Coogler and Jordan clearly have a strong and fruitful chemistry. While it may be premature to liken the late twentysomethings to Scorsese and De Niro or Scorsese and DiCaprio, there is real dramatic potential there.
Jordan has a magnetism and swagger that no other contemporary displays. Those unique qualities may explain why filmmakers have wanted to cast him in roles that have historically not been African American. He is the first to rebound from this year's Fantastic Four, which reteamed him with another promising second-time director to disastrous results. I still believe that unconventional superhero movie unfairly got a bad rap, but it already feels like old news with a different reunion yielding this most satisfactory new take on an old franchise.

Stallone has resisted supporting roles ever since Rocky made him a star, but clearly he is better suited to those duties than leading man ones these days. Coogler gets probably the best performance from the surgically preserved aging actor since the original film opened on Thanksgiving week thirty-nine years ago. With his distinct deep voice and macho mannerisms, Stallone is a natural to fill the mentor role that Burgess Meredith held for him. He is the only remnant from the past movies, other characters from which are otherwise represented only in photographs and headstones. Creed knows its predecessors and shows its love for them most explicitly in a Ludwig Gφransson score that reworks Bill Conti's enduring themes. But this film is more interested in looking forward than back and is the better for it.

Judging from the applause that accompanied the final fight scene (one of just two the film serves up at any length) and became rapturous at the end credits, Creed is certain to please crowds. It also pleased this critic, who entered liking the original film, having different degrees of tolerance for the next four (I've still not seen Rocky Balboa), and not really expecting too much from this new story.

While respectable box office numbers in the face of strong competition seem quite possible, there is also a chance that the movie could be Warner Bros. Pictures' horse in this year's awards race. Without fail, the studio has gotten one or more nominees into the Oscars' Best Picture category since 2002. With the acclaim for Mad Max: Fury Road faded, Black Mass losing heat every day, and Our Brand Is Crisis being dead on arrival, it's down to Creed and In the Heart of the Sea to keep the studio's long, largely unnoticed streak going. Though the original Rocky won Best Picture back in 1977 (defeating such heavyweights as Network, Taxi Driver, and All the President's Men), Heart looks more like the Oscars' cup of tea and it would fill the surprise, unforeseen eleventh hour contender roles that American Sniper and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close have played in recent years past. But who knows, maybe Stallone could sneak into Supporting Actor for his first Oscar nomination since losing Lead Actor and Screenplay on the original Rocky. Perhaps even Coogler and Jordan could make the cut and pre-emptively address diversity issues some are eager to take Hollywood and the Academy to task for.

Buy Creed from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Boxing: Rocky • The Fighter • Southpaw • Million Dollar Baby • Real Steel | Sports: Invincible • McFarland, USA
Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler: Fruitvale Station
Michael B. Jordan: Fantastic Four (2015) • Chronicle | Sylvester Stallone: Grudge Match
Now in Theaters: Spectre • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 • The Good Dinosaur • Victor Frankenstein • Spotlight • Trumbo • Brooklyn

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Reviewed November 25, 2015.

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