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Review: Creed

December 14, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Creed PosterThe seventh entry into the Rocky franchise, which started nearly forty years ago with the Oscar-winning original film, Creed arrives like an unexpected knockout.  This is the rare spinoff that is able to both meet high expectations and stand up to lofty comparisons to its predecessors, while emerging as a winner in its own right.

This film opens at a youth detention centre in 1998, where a young boy is constantly getting into fights.  This boy just so happens to be the long lost son of boxing legend Apollo Creed, and shortly after the late boxer’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) comes to adopt him.

When we flash forward to present day, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is unhappily working at a desk job, making extra cash from underground fights, and using a different last name to avoid unfair comparisons to the father he never knew.

Determined to follow in the footsteps of his patriarch who tragically died in the ring, and become a champion boxer in his own right, Adonis spontaneously quits his job and moves to Philadelphia, where he convinces the one and only Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to help train him.  But unexpected health challenges, as well as burgeoning romance with a young musician (Tessa Thompson) who is slowly losing her hearing, bring added pressure to his life and struggle to succeed.

Despite a different champion being given the title treatment, Creed is every bit a Rocky movie, and the beats of the narrative will be mostly familiar to fans of the series.  But the film follows this underdog sports movie formula in the best possible way, injecting a sense of genuine feeling into the material that makes it all seem improbably fresh.  This is all thanks to the work of director Ryan Cooglar and the performances of Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, a power trio of sorts who all turn in top notch work, providing the beating heart behind the film.

Michael B. Jordan carries the film like a movie star, a performance that is impressive both in and out of the ring, quietly affective in the dramatic character moments, and displaying muscle-popping bravado during the big set pieces.  The other secret weapon that Creed has up its sleeve is Sylvester Stallone, who further elevates the film with an excellent supporting role.  This is one of his best performances since he wrote and starred in the first film, a bruised and emotional turn from the iconic action star, that simmers with a quiet sense of reflection and gives added resonance to the film.

Ryan Cooglar directs this all with incredible skill, and it’s even more impressive considering that this is only his second film after making his debut with the gutting drama Fruitvale Station, another stellar collaboration with Michael B. Jordan.  Here the young filmmaker stages inspiring training montages and gripping fight sequences that stand alongside the best of the series.  The final fight wrings every ounce of suspense out of the material, utilizing everything from quick cuts to slow motion, so that every punch to the face and spray of blood has the same impact.  The cinematography is brilliant throughout, including spinning camerawork and several long takes, that are all expertly edited together.

Like Rocky, Creed is filled with images that could become iconic in their own right, including a striking moment where Adonis shadowboxes in front of a projector screen playing highlights from an old fight, affectively allowing him to channel Rocky Balboa and metaphorically confront his father.  The last scene arrives with unexpected poignancy for fans of the series, a touching moment that represents a handing over the torch if you will, allowing the film to end in a fittingly emotional way.

This is an entertaining, frequently moving and inspirational spinoff that stands alongside the best of the series, and there’s really not much more could you ask for from the seventh instalment in a classic franchise, especially one that started with a film as beloved as Rocky.  And if more films should follow, it’s comforting to know the future of this saga rests on the very capable shoulders of Michael B. Jordan.

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