‘Creed’ Review: A 1st Round Knockout That Captures the Spirit of ‘Rocky’ with Its Own Set of Gloves

Quote: “One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.”

Synopsis: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa.

Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring.

With Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

Review: The Rocky franchise is one of the most beloved franchises of all-time. It’s one of the most heart filled journeys ever, as we watched an unknown upstart from Philadelphia inspire us as he took on the world of heavyweight boxing. Even so, the same story that’s been filled with so much heart and inspiration and friendship and everything else, it lost some steam towards the end of its run. So while we thought Rocky Balboa was the final entry into the franchise, that was before Ryan Coogler.

It’s been known for some time that Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone never saw himself doing another Rocky movie. Just as we did, he believed Rocky Balboa was the perfect topping to a multilayered cake. That speaks very highly of the kind of impact this story had on Stallone when him and Coogler first met. When I had heard that Coogler wanted to make a spin-off story focused on Apollo Creed’s son, I thought it was just to good to be true, it felt like the perfect way to continue the franchise. And man was it…

Just as Star Wars has chosen a true fan in J.J. Abrams to pave its path, Ryan Coogler is a true fan of the Rocky franchise and there couldn’t have been a better choice to hold the weight than him. Coogler stayed with the basics, carefully but confidently mixing the realism of Fruitvale Station in with a more big-budget approach. It made the film feel right at home, directly lining it up with the original Rocky and what made that one so special, and one that’s sure to launch an entire new series of films.

Just as in Coogler’s Fruitvale StationCreed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, the son of the late great Apollo Creed. There’s no other way to put it, Jordan completely shines. Mainly due to his blood, Johnson is a character who has been fighting his entire life and needs guidance; a character with already so many layers, Jordan gives him even more depth and solidifies his name as one of the best young actors today.

That’s where his father’s best friend steps in, as Rocky steps back into the ring to train, love and support his late friend’s son as he was his own. Jordan was fantastic as Johnson, but Stallone was even better as Rocky. Let me be clear, he’s never been better. Don’t expect to see Rocky taking any kind of punches or throwing any of his own, this is a much different Rocky than any before. Now leaving anything boxing behind and running a restaurant named Adrian’s in Philly, Rocky is a lonely, tired and soon to find out sick man, but much wiser than we’ve ever seen him. Not ever knowing Adonis Johnson existed, you can tell that Rocky feels a sense of obligation towards his old friend’s son. And at the same time, Johnson showing up was the perfect thing for Rocky, it’s clear that the Italian Stallion needs a somewhat surrogate son (or just family member) just as much as Johnson needs a true father figure. The coming-of-age of Johnson is good, the fighting is great, but it’s a testament to the powerful performances of both Jordan and Stallone that their relationship is where the real heart of the film comes from, really making everything else secondary.

Speaking of fighting, the boxing action is some of the best seen in a film in years. It never shied away from showing the beatdowns that were given. They were some beautifully crafted scenes, including that magnificent tracking shot that took place during one of the earlier fights.

Unlike Southpaw where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Billy Hope character was unlikable at times, Adonis Johnson can almost be seen as a heroic figure, just as Rocky was back in the day. Always fighting to step out of his true name’s shadow, we see him grow and take on that name straight on as the film progresses. And just as the tagline says, Johnson comes to learn that what he leaves behind is more than a name.

It’s pretty hard to believe anyone walking out of Creed unhappy. It has everything the original Rocky has, just with its own modern day magic. If you love boxing, you won’t be disappointed. If you love seeing a story about overcoming overwhelming odds, you won’t be disappointed. But by far, the best thing going for Creed is the relationship built between Adonis and Rocky. They may not be blood, but it be hard to find two characters who love, support and care for each other more than these two. And that’s where all the success of Creed comes from, as it focuses more on its heart and spirit than hard-hitting blows.

Rating: 9.5/10

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