In this spin-off to the popular Rocky series, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the offspring of Apollo Creed nobody knew about. Driven to be a fighter like his father, but wanting to make it on his own name, Adonis seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him.
It’s been well advertised and publicized that this isn’t Rocky VII. While Rocky plays an essential role in this film, this is truly the story of Adonis Creed. Having said that, there are plenty of Rocky-isms and Rocky influences to make it feel like another Rocky story, and in the later half of this film, it’s just as much his movie as it is Adonis. Rocky is easily in the top three of my favorite film characters of all time, so obviously his mere presence was going to have an affect on me no matter what. But if the story of Adonis doesn’t work, this will be nothing but an empty nostalgia trip. With director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Michael B. Jordan at the helm, that thankfully was not the case.
It’s easy to wave off spin-offs and sequels as cheap money grabs, but you can tell in the first scene that Ryan Coogler legitimately had a story to tell in this world. We see Adonis as a kid, and the mood and atmosphere feel like we’re about to be told a biopic of a real boxer. As Adonis learns who he is, we are immediately pulled into this story.
Adonis’ history is interesting, creating an intriguing premise for why this guy ultimately becomes a fighter. Unlike his father and Rocky, he didn’t have to fight. While the movie works on its own, this is where having knowledge of the Rocky series comes into play. Knowing Apollo Creed, there’s simply fighter’s blood in his body. He has no choice but to fight. What takes this from being a simple “boxer tries to make it” story is the name “Creed.” Even though it would get him bigger fights, Adonis wants nobody to know he’s the son of Apollo. Wanting to protect his father’s legacy, and make it on his own, Adonis goes by the name Johnson. As the facts get revealed, and the story becomes more about Adonis trying to earn his name is when the movie ramps up, as does Adonis’ pain. Michael B. Jordan owns the screen, blending the character’s drive and frustration flawlessly.
As great as Jordan is, let’s stop beating around the bush. Sylvester Stallone’s performance could very well get him an Oscar nomination. Aside from the original, this might be his best turn as the character, most notably because of his vulnerable state. The writers also nailed the character, giving us plenty of Rocky lines and Rocky moments. Yes, he has turtles. While I loved Stallone’s passionate and energetic turn in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, it’s more understated here. This is a powerful, sad and lighthearted take on the character, and if you’re a diehard fan like myself, it will hit you hard.
Aside from the individual performances, it’s the manager/boxer relationship that is the film’s strongest asset. The chemistry between Jordan and Stallone works instantaneously. It’s fatherly, playful and at times even contentious, with one harsh line in particular from Adonis to Rocky when both characters are at their lowest. While this bond works in spades in the first half, it reaches a whole other level later in the film when both characters work together to fight individual battles.
The other major relationships in Adonis’ life are with his step mom, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), and new girlfriend, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. The tension between Mary Anne and Adonis writes itself, as Mary Ann doesn’t want her son to fight for obvious reasons, as she was forced to watch Apollo die in the ring. Rashad is great, and they definitely pay off her character at the end. Bianca is also a good romantic interest, and Thompson brings a lot of charisma to the role, including the character’s own personal struggles. Her chemistry with Jordan is perfect, and you completely buy into their relationship.
There isn’t a whole lot to complain about with Creed. The direction and screenplay are tight, and even at two hours plus, it actually moves at a fast pace. My only real criticism is many of the big moments could have felt more impactful. It feels so tight, I wish we could have taken a breath here and there. The final fight is also a mixed bag. Parts of it were dramatic and climactic, while other moments felt rushed.
If you’re a Rocky fan, you’re obligated to see this movie. But just as Adonis wants to make his own name, the title itself succeeds in making this a Creed movie. It also celebrates both Rocky and Apollo Creed. When Adonis is in Los Angeles, the gym is a shrine to Apollo, but in Philadelphia, it’s Rocky land. The score is also a good mix of new, with dabs of Rocky. This is simply a great movie that happens to feature Rocky, with a final scene that truly packs a punch.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)