December 10, 2015
Back in 1976, a little film about a poor boxer overcoming the odds to become a champ became one of that year's highest-grossing films. "Rocky" even ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Director (for John G. Avildsen). Since then, the character of Rocky Balboa has figured in six more films, and this present one is the seventh. But here in this new one, Rocky is not the lead character anymore as star Sylvester Stallone concedes to his age and turns over his gloves to a new hero.
The "Creed" in the title refers to Adonis "Donnie" Creed, illegitimate son of boxing legend and Rocky's nemesis-turned-best friend Apollo Creed. Against the wishes of his adoptive mother and Apollo Creed's wife, Mary Anne , Donnie seeks out Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia to train him to be a prizefighter. Right before a critical fight against the current champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (played by real life pro boxer Tony Bellew), Donnie finds out about Rocky own fight against a threat of another kind. The two would help each other face their respective fights.
Michael B. Jordan (NOT the basketball icon) proves that he is really one of the most promising actors of this generation as he embodies the rebellious and cocky Donnie Creed. After several years on TV, he first gained critical attention in a 2013 indie film about racial violence "Fruitvale Station", also directed by his director in this film Ryan Coogler. Since then, he had been in a raunchy comedy "That Awkward Moment" (with other up and comers Zac Efron and Miles Teller) and a (disastrous) Marvel superhero flick "Fantastic Four". But here as the titular "Creed" we really see the genre he is really good at -- drama.
Sylvester Stallone was very likable here as the aging Rocky. He has gone full circle from the first Rocky film. Rocky Balboa was was his big Hollywood breakthrough role and it got him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor to boot. Since then, Stallone would become a huge action superstar in various roles which did not really require him to show any form of heartfelt dramatic acting. As of now, this role in "Creed" had already won Stallone a Best Supporting Actor citation from the National Board of Review, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. Can his first Oscar finally be within reach?
A promising new beauty and talent, Tessa Thompson played Bianca, Donnie's spunky musician neighbor and love interest. She registers strongly on screen, effortlessly natural and had very good chemistry with Jordan. Phylicia Rashad played Mary Anne Creed much like she played Claire Huxtable years ago.
Being a sports film, it treads very familiar themes -- the desire, the intense training, conflicts, the final climactic match and its aftermath. However, director Ryan Coogler ups the ante from previous Rocky films by giving us spectacular cinematography from inside the boxing ring and around the City of Brotherly Love, as well as excitingly-edited and brutally-choreographed fight scenes. The epilogue filmed on the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made iconic in the first Rocky film, was lovingly executed, promising the fortuitous birth of a whole new franchise. 8/10.