Review: 'Creed' Breathes Life Into The Rocky Franchise With The Talents Of Jordan And Coogler

Franchises are all the rage these days with sequels and continuations being pumped out often and older franchises being brought back in the hopes of major box office returns. This can go either direction as far as quality just like any other film release but usually stinks of desperation. This couldn't be further from the truth in the case of 'Creed' with a young new talent in Ryan Coogler taking on the long standing boxing franchise of 'Rocky' with a continuation that makes sense and still captures the essence of what made the original a masterpiece. 

It would be understandable for someone to roll their eyes at the premise of 'Creed'. The son of Apollo Creed, a child born of an extramarital affair, deciding to fully commit to his talents of taking and delivering heavy punches while trying to do so outside of his father's shadow with a different name. This film follows Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) who after being taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) who pulled him out of a juvenile detention center is raised in a world of luxury and lands a pretty cushy job in, um, some office environment but decides to abandon this and enter the world of legitimate professional boxing with the help of his dad's old friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Like I said, that may be cringe worthy to some or drool-inducing to others.

From the jump this film feels very different from the previous installments with a small scale take on Donnie's (the much needed shortened version of Adonis) story and almost plays out like a prelude before jumping into the meat of the story. Coogler has a deft directing touch immediately and transitions from this departure in style right into a film that has the heart of 'Rocky' but made in the modern age. This continues as we follow Donnie from Los Angeles to Philadelphia after he fails to find a gym that will train him and hopes that good ol' Rocky will pull through for him. From their first interaction Jordan and Stallone are electric together and showcase their talents that never waver throughout the runtime of this film. Coogler deserves a fair amount of the credit here as he and Jordan certainly have a shorthand after working on 'Fruitvale Station' together and he pulls a performance from Stallone that could be considered nomination worthy when the Oscars roll around next year. That isn't hyperbole whatsoever. Stallone has shown throughout his career that he can deliver emotional and grounded performances with the right talents behind the camera. 

The fantastic performances and tone are never dropped and are made even better by the technical aspects of this film. Coogler moves the camera through the ring in a way I have never seen in a boxing film and I have seen many. He doesn't shy away from the brutality of the sport and holds his shots for ridiculous amounts of time that often span multiple rounds. This is made all the more impressive by the choreography of the fights that never appears to be anything but natural. Add to this the fantastic sounds editing and score/music that blends the traditional 'Rocky' theme with a more modern, urban take that fits with the side of Philadelphia that Coogler has chosen to make a character and you get something really special. This elevates this beyond just a serviceable boxing film and into the territory that will undoubtedly have it talked about for awards consideration.

 Jordan's ability to portray both Donnie's desperation to avoid his fathers legacy while also holding onto pieces of the man he never knew is no small task.  As talented as Jordan is, if being directed by someone less skilled the result may not have been so spot on and impressive. All the same, if Stallone wasn't so magnificent here then I wouldn't be able to stop raving about Jordan but that just isn't the case. He is nearly overshadowed by him but in the best way possible. Without Stallone's refreshing and almost surprising take on the aging champ we may not have had anything worth talking about from Jordan. These performances are nearly matched by the love interest of the film Bianca (Tessa Thompson) who is also a charming delight but does have a pretty major character trait that is somehow the only on the nose aspect of a film that should be entirely that. It's more than forgivable though so feel free to throw that sentence out. 

With what is looking to be a pretty impressive box office take this weekend and some well-earned critical acclaim, hopefully we can see a new series in this universe with a 'Creed' franchise. Coogler and Jordan's passion for this project shines off of the screen and I have little doubt that they would be able to do this again. Fans of film, 'Rocky', sports movies in general or oscar-buzz type films all have something great to see here. Make the trip to theater as this is more than worth the time and effort.