The “Rocky” film series has been around for a long time, with the first film released almost 40 years ago and its sequels spanning several decades following. After a nine year hiatus, “Creed” not only revitalized a franchise that was on a clear decline, but it evolved into something else entirely while still holding on to fond memories of the past. “Creed” makes its own mark through stellar casting, an incredibly well-written story and a powerful modernized soundtrack.
Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” opens with a young Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson), placed in a Los Angeles youth facility. An unfamiliar woman comes into his cell claiming to have known the boy’s father, that his name was Apollo Creed, and that she was his wife. Seventeen years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is involved in an underground boxing league in Mexico, while working for a securities firm during the day. His dream of becoming a professional boxer drives him to quit his job and leave for Philadelphia, the home of his father’s best friend and rival, “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Though hesitant, Balboa would stand in Adonis’ corner, fighting his own personal battles as his apprentice fought in the ring. Though not ashamed of his father’s name, Adonis wants one thing above all else: to make his own impact on the world of professional boxing.
Even after a single viewing, it’s obvious that Jordan was a perfect fit for the role of Adonis. The incredible amount of work Jordan put into becoming a contender in the world of professional boxing is apparent in every on-screen match. He’s also pretty clearly in the best shape of any of the fighters in the entire film, some of whom look a bit pudgy in comparison. The supporting cast, from the other boxers to love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and series veteran Stallone as Rocky — not a single performance falls short. This consistency in acting quality throughout the film is amplified by the work of writer and director Ryan Coogler, the first person to write and direct a film in the Rocky universe that isn’t Stallone himself. Coogler handles the story well; flashbacks and references to the six prior entries in the series never feel excessive or unnecessary.
In fact, it’s these moments in the film that put the biggest smiles on people’s faces (besides the scenes involving Jordan handing out brutal combos in the ring). What makes “Creed” stand out, though, is its modernization of the franchise and the seamless and entertaining way in which this modernization plays out in the clash between the old guard and the new, or Balboa and Adonis. While most of the film dealt with serious material, its lighthearted moments were extremely well done and brought the entire audience to laughter.
One of the Rocky franchise of films’ most recognizable aspects is undoubtedly its soundtrack, and “Creed” successfully follows suit while adding its own modern spin. The orchestral soundtrack of the originals has acted as a springboard for the newly developed score by Ludwig Goransson. Bass-heavy, darker remixes of some of the series’ more iconic melodies have been incorporated not only into the orchestrated score, but also into original and remixed tracks by the likes of Meek Mill, Future and Donald Glover (all of which are very well done). Overall, “Creed’s” soundtrack is a success in that it perfectly parallels an incredibly well done modernization of the Rocky franchise.
The only area where “Creed” might fall short to some, is in the way that it falls long. To start, this is the longest movie in the Rocky franchise. With a run time of 133 minutes, which isn’t terribly long in movie standards, I’d argue that it could have benefited from being shorter. Occasionally, scenes would feel unnecessarily long, or unnecessary in general. During at least two points in the film, I felt like I was watching an extended-cut rather than the intended director’s cut for theatrical release. This was a very minor issue, but the drops in action are hard to ignore. Fortunately, they weren’t so common or unpleasant that the entire film is ruined.
“Creed” is one of the best Rocky films of the entire franchise. I’d argue it’s the best movie of this year. Though anybody can find something to enjoy in “Creed,” fans of the Rocky series will get the best experience. Bridging the gap between Rocky and Adonis’ generations in boxing, music and culture is done flawlessly, and is one of the most entertaining aspects of the film to watch. Much in the way that Adonis seeks recognition for himself despite the name he’s been branded with, “Creed” swings for its individual merit, and connects with an unstoppable blow.
Rating: 4.5 stars