Everyone seemed to do a double-take when Rocky Balboa actually turned out to be pretty good back in 2006, and now we’re back in the same situation with 2015’s Creed.
Surprise! The Rocky formula works. They’ve now made seven of them after the Oscar-winning original, and only one of them (Rocky V) can be considered a real disappointment.
But Creed is a departure for the series in that Rocky Balboa is no longer the central figure: now, he’s really too old to get back in the ring (save for 2013’s Grudge Match, which pitted star Sylvester Stallone against Robert De Niro).
Creed is also the first Rocky movie not to be written by Stallone (who won an Oscar for his script to the original film), with Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler taking over the reigns as both writer and director (alongside credited co-writer Aaron Covington).
Michael B. Jordan, riveting as Oscar Grant in the director’s previous film, is in the spotlight here as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s onetime rival and eventual friend who was killed in the ring during the events of Rocky IV. Fun fact: 29-year-old director Coogler wasn’t even born when Rocky IV was released in 1985.
Rocky fan backstory: after Apollo’s death earlier in the franchise, his widow adopted his troubled son, saving him from the foster care system. Adonis grew up to be a fine young man, and even has a black tie job.
But he still feels the call of the ring, and goes heads down from L.A. to Mexico on the weekends to participate in some underground fights. L.A. trainers won’t take Adonis on, not necessarily because he’s not good enough, but because his adopted mother has taken steps to prevent it.
So where does he turn? Why, to Dad’s old pal in the ring, Rocky Balboa, still living in Philly after all these years. Rocky isn’t keen to take Adonis under his wing, either, after troubles with his own son in the series’ previous films. But he’ll at least hear the kid out… he owes his father that much. And, well… we all know where this is going, don’t we.
Creed is a very entertaining movie, and a rock-solid success that is not just compelling in its own right, but manages to do justice to the Rocky franchise without pandering to its fans. Those who have seen all the Rocky movies or none of them will find plenty to appreciate here.
But Creed is also a very formulaic movie that takes dashes of the original Rocky and dashes of Rocky Balboa and a dash of all the other boxing movies out there and plays them with a straight face. There are few surprises here, and while the film is highly entertaining it doesn’t reinvent the series or the genre.
Some elements – particularly a romantic subplot – feel underdeveloped. But the movie undeniably scores in the ring, with some digital trickery employed to convey the feel of long tracking shots (one of which seems to encompass an entire fight). Exciting stuff.
There’s something inherently cinematic about boxing, and these movies tend to work. But Creed is only marginally better than 2015’s other big boxing movie, Southpaw. I guess that’s not a bad thing: both movies are certainly well worth watching.
Nonetheless, Creed scored heaps of praise and even an Oscar nomination for co-star Stallone, nearly 40 years after he was nominated for the same role in the original film. I like his performance as Rocky in Creed, but it’s the same Rocky performance he’s given six times before, just with a different character arc this time around.
Creed might be the same old-same old, but director Coogler and (especially) star Jordan bring some welcome fresh blood to the franchise. I’m looking forward to seeing where they might take the character.