‘Rocky’ franchise sets a new bar in the 7th round

Film Review: “Creed”


Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa (left) trains Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (right) in the new film “Creed.”

Jacob Judd, Features Editor

“Creed” is a bad idea on paper. A spinoff of the “Rocky” franchise nearly a decade since the Italian Stallion came out of retirement for the second time should be as ill fated an endeavor as this summer’s much maligned “Terminator: Genisys”

Despite this, “Creed” manages through sheer force of will, creative inspiration and the immense talent of all those involved to defy the odds and become the most exciting piece of popular filmmaking to come out this year.

30 years after the death of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, his illegitimate son Adonis forsakes a life of luxury and sets out to make his own name in the ring. Adonis’ journey leads him to Philadelphia where he seeks out Rocky Balboa, in the hopes of receiving training from his father’s old rival.

Like the title character, “Creed” inherits the best of its forebears’ legacy, but manages to carve out a bold new identity for itself. This is the best the “Rocky” franchise has been since the Oscar-winning original.

Michael B. Jordan has been slowly building up an impressive list of credits for years, but this promises to be a star-making moment for him. Not only nailing every emotional beat but proving to be a phenomenal physical performer. Training montages have seldom been more compelling.

As the world-weary Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone turns in a career best performance. Rocky has his own battles to fight, and for the first time in decades, victory is not a given. The Rocky persona tended to dip into self-parody in later entries, but here Stallone has found the soul of the character again. In old age, Stallone finds new depths to the character and a soft spoken humility that reminds us why we fell in love with him forty years ago.

Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler established himself as a substantial talent with his debut feature, “Fruitvale Station.” Here he proves that he is not only ready for the big leagues of major studio filmmaking, but more than capable of producing an exciting blockbuster that’s equally smart, heartfelt, socially conscious and visually arresting.

The boxing sequences make up the film’s most visually intense moments. One important matchup seems to have been filmed in a single take. It’s in these moments that the film soars. Adonis’ victories never feel pre-ordained and the audience winches with every blow he takes. The tension in the theatre was palpable and the crowd erupted into applause more than a few times.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Tessa Thompson builds a rich and honest character out of what could easily have been just another love interest. Phylicia Rashad is perfect as Adonis’ adopted mother. Newcomer and real-life boxer Tony Bellew surprises as a memorable antagonist that never devolves into a cartoon character in the vein of Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago.

“Creed” is an more than a new installment in an old series. It’s a newly minted American classic.