Ryan Coogler and Michael B.Jordan team up again (Fruitvale Station) to bring us the seventh instalment in the Rocky franchise. The story of Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, Apollo’s illegitimate son.
We meet Adonis at a young offenders institute where he’s in solitary for fighting, his parents are dead, but Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne, takes in and raises the young Creed.
30 years later Donnie feels trapped in a career at a securities firm; he leaves after getting a promotion to pursue a career in boxing despite Mary Anne’s disapproval. After being turned down for a training slot in an L.A. gym he heads to Philadelphia seeking training from Rocky Balboa.
Philadelphia becomes almost another character in the film as Cooler uses it’s own local culture in terms of slang, food and bikes to make the city live rather than be an anonymous setting. The bikes are integrated into a particularly invigorating scene.
As you’d expect the Italian Stallion is reluctant at first and Donnie settles for self training at Mighty Mick’s while he settles into Philadelphia. He also builds a relationship with Bianca living below him, she’s a singer with progressive hearing loss.
Director Ryan Coogler has blended a practically blank slate with the 1976 original. Without turning to constant tedious references Creed feels like a Rocky film.
Rocky films since the very first have been about the underdog and this film stays true to that. Creed is the underdog much like Rocky was in the first; cemented by his unclear determination: “My father’s nothing to me, I wanna make it on my own!” Bianca is almost a deaf singer and Rocky’s underdog battle is his biggest yet.
Initially Creed is dragged down by going through the motions of setting up the film; Rocky’s initial reluctance and Donnie;s determination to “make it on his own.” The weakest part of the film is how trite Donnie’s motivation and determination feels, it’s like
After eventually agreeing to train Donnie, the mini-Creed moves into his “Unc’s” place. As he prepares for an amateur fight that leads to his heritage being revealed to the world.
Reflecting Rocky’s first fight with Apollo, Donnie gets his first chance as a famous boxer from an unexpected offer from light heavyweight champion Ricky Conlan played by real boxer Tony Bellew. Conan has an impending prison term and is looking for a big pay off to leave a nest egg behind for his family. What could be more of a money maker than a fight with Apollo Creed’s son?
Adonis Johnson is another role for Michael B. Jordan to completely disappear into with a confident performance. Although his character is nothing new, compared with the quiet powerhouse of Rocky from the first film, but Jordan’s performance helps Donnie’s drive feel alive. His more temperamental nature juxtaposes with Sylvester Stallone’s subtle wisened nature. Sly Stallone is obviously the heart of the movie, Rocky’s lost his wife and his two best friends in Apollo and trainer Paulie. It’s the perfect time for him to play this version of Rocky their faces sag with experience and tough times.
The pair’s performances perfectly counteract each other and during his training Donnie, Bianca and Rocky become a portrait of an irregular family with astute acting a sharply written script.
Boxing is one of the most cinematic sports and Coogler uses it well to create visually dynamic fight scenes. The angles, cuts and sound work in tandem to bring an intense, visceral and animalistic experience to the movie goer. Every brutal hit resonates throughout the long takes that are blended together well. Jordan and Stallone have done enough throughout to make it spiritually rousing. It’s helped by a classic English football crowd, with scenes being shot during halftime. Coogler has proved he can step up his game into the big leagues.
Verdict: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ Spiritually rousing, well acted, and viscerally and dynamically shot it’s a true Rocky movie. The emotional resonance wrestle off problems with some tropes. Many exciting directorial touches makes Ryan Coogler’s career one to watch.