Creed is a sports drama directed by Ryan Coogler, with a screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington. The film follows Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), an illegitimate son of former boxing great Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Despite living a privileged life and holding down a great job, Donnie has a hankering to get into the ring—boxing courses through his veins. Donnie leaves his home in Los Angeles and heads to Philadelphia, the home of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)—his father’s former foe-turned-friend. Donnie tries to convince Rocky to train him, and despite Balboa’s many rejections to those requests, he finally agrees. Along the way to an eventual title shot, Donnie and Rocky both endure plenty of bumps in the road, but their collective desire to press on places this duo on a resilient path.
I am a committed fan of the Rocky franchise, and in Creed, my love for the series lives on. Stallone’s original Rocky (1976) was a flawless film with a beautiful story. And although the series came to a fitting end for Rocky as a competitive boxer in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the character itself endures—albeit in a new, supporting role—thanks to Ryan Coogler and Creed. This film is only Coogler’s second feature of his career. The 29-year-old USC alum debuted on the scene in 2013 with Fruitvale Station, a gripping tale of the real-life events surrounding Oscar Grant’s murder by a BART officer in Oakland, CA. That film, like Creed, features Michael B. Jordan as the lead character. These two guys are completely in sync as a team, and I sure hope they continue to work together in the future. Coogler’s direction in Creed is nothing short of masterful. He crafts a brand new, stand-alone story, but he does so in a way that pays picturesque homage to Stallone and his beloved Rocky series. In Creed, we see so many parallels between itself and Rocky, including a strikingly similar story arc—Coogler even delivers a romantic subplot that is charmingly reminiscent of Rocky and Adrian’s original affectionate connection. Additionally, one of my favorite scenes of the entire film features Donnie watching clips of his father’s infamous fight with Rocky Balboa on a big screen in his personal home theater—Donnie eventually stands up and shadow boxes with the two legends, and as the sights and sounds of the fight build with the music, I got a zillion chills. Coogler could not have drawn that scene up any better. Although this film is especially incredible to me (given that it builds upon some of my favorite sports films of all time), Coogler gives modern fans a new story that dexterously succeeds in its own individual right. I applaud Ryan Coogler for reinvigorating one of sports’ greatest tales.
As far as acting, the obvious starting point is Sylvester Stallone. In the modern age of cinema, Stallone is a household name because of his many action-packed, macho-man movies, such as The Expendables, Escape Plan, and Grudge Match. Most simply do not respect Stallone anymore as a credible performer, at least in a critically acclaimed manner—that all changes with Creed. The original Rocky (1976) garnered Stallone Oscar nominations for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (the film was additionally nominated for eight more Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing) and rightfully so. Stallone showcased his immense acting abilities in the original film, and I was as pleased as anyone to see him steal the show in Creed—he reminded us just how good of an actor he really can be (this is a huge credit to Ryan Coogler for getting the best out of Stallone). His character’s attitudes, facial expressions, and mannerisms are vintage Rocky Balboa; yet, the character is more lonely and broken down than we’ve ever seen him. It is in his delineation of these downhearted emotions that Stallone succeeds. Hard to believe that 40 years after the original Rocky was released, Stallone will (most likely) be snagging an Oscar for his portrayal of Rocky Balboa.
With Rocky Balboa taking a more backseat role in Creed, Michael B. Jordan emerges as the story’s new lead, portraying Apollo Creed’s son Adonis. Jordan is a fantastic up-and-coming talent in Hollywood, and in Creed, he gives an incredibly gifted performance. Some have argued that Jordan was snubbed by the Academy. I do not believe this is true; even though Jordan delivered a brilliant portrayal in the film, the Academy’s five choices for Best Actor were simply too good this year. This fact does not lessen the importance of Michael B. Jordan’s performance, however. Adonis is a young, confused kid. He does not quite know who he is as a man, and this is visibly evidenced by his outward frustration and anger. Jordan nails these nuanced emotions to a tee, and in Adonis Creed, he has given film fans a new boxing hero. In addition to Jordan, Tessa Thompson gives a radiant performance as Donnie’s love interest Bianca, a hearing-impaired musician. As mentioned earlier, the romantic subplot of Donnie and Bianca mimics that of Rocky and Adrian from the original film, and Thompson’s beautiful acting is the fulcrum that holds this on-screen couple together—much like her performance in 2014’s Dear White People, Tessa Thompson delivers tenfold. Creed is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some sensuality.
Creed trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4
Academy Award nominations for Creed:
Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Beasts of No Nation
- The Martian