Over the course of 6 films, the Rocky franchise has had its ups and downs. The series began back in 1976, and it's here that we were first introduced to the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a boxer trying to get himself out there. The film won best picture, and it still holds up today. It's moving, uplifting, motivational and entertaining from start to finish. Now, nearly 40 years later, we get Creed, and the Rocky franchise has never been better. Creed is a film that surpasses all of the previous sequels, managing to come so close to being on par with the original classic.
Creed is the story of a young boxer named Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late boxing world champion, Apollo Creed. He never met his father, but as his son, he had to carry on the legacy. Except he didn't want to, as evident by his change of last name. He wanted to make it into the world of boxing on his own, not relying on the name to get him overnight success, and to help do that he gets the help of an elderly Rocky, who is still working away at a restaurant. Rocky, reluctant at first, takes Adonis under his wing because he sees his potential to be greater than his father, and that's what this film is really all about. It's about Adonis attempting to rise to fame with the help of Rocky, and I loved it.
Creed marks the first time where a Rocky movie hasn't been written by Sylvester Stallone. Stallone, who intended for this franchise to end after Balboa (but I'm so glad it didn't), had no input into the creative process behind this movie. It's a new story for a new generation, written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington and directed by Coogler, who's also the man behind 2013's underrated gem, Fruitvale Station. All of the Rocky movies up to this point seemed to follow a similar structure, although Creed has become the exception. Creed doesn't follow this same structure. Yes, it does have a few parallels to the original Rocky, but it makes it its own thing, resulting in a new take on the Rocky franchise. A predictable one, but an exciting one.
Taking the lead role is Michael B. Jordan, whose performance here is doing a great job at making us forget all about the abomination that was Fantastic Four. His performance is layered and has an emotional core. Jordan does a great job at employing realism into his character, and really bringing to life the connections he has with fellow cast members. The dynamic between Adonis and Rocky plays a pivotal role into this story, as well as Adonis' connections to his late father, and Jordan really sells it. You can feel everything, the impact hitting hard, and his performance even becomes a little tear jerking at times.
Taking on the role of Rocky Balboa for the seventh time is Sylvester Stallone, and he gives what my just be one of the best performances of his career. Many people have been saying his performance is worthy of an Oscar and while I personally don't think that's going to happen, if it does, I have no complaints. Rocky steps in as the father figure for Adonis and the film really relies on the relationship between the two of them. He's never the central focus of this movie, though. It's a film with Rocky in it, but it's not a Rocky movie. It's a Creed movie, and it takes a solid 25 minutes for Rocky to even appear (and that's a good thing).
What Ryan Coogler really nails in this movie is the cinematography. He uses a lot of long, tracking shots, first evident by the opening scene featuring a young Adonis. It's a long, moving take that utilises plenty of different angles while being able to clearly show plenty of on-screen action. There's also a fight about halfway through that's done all in the one shot and it's absolutely absorbing. The camera swings all around the ring, as well as to the spectators, including the cheering Rocky. For me, it's the best moment in this entire film. But it's not just the long takes that are great, either. Every shot in this film is just... well.... delicious, so to speak.
We all remember the iconic ending to Rocky. We all remember Stallone, bleeding and drenched in sweat, screaming at the top of his lungs for his beloved Adrian. We were all touched and moved by that ending, and while Creed doesn't nearly come close to having an ending as solid as that, it goes out quite well. I honestly don't know if this is going to be the last we see of the Rocky franchise, but if it is, it's quite the way to go. The ending is touching and sweet, serving as both the perfect send off and the perfect beginning. Maybe it's both. Only time will tell.
Creed is two hours and fifteen minutes long, but trust me when I say it hardly feels like an hour and a half. There's so much going on in Creed, but at the same time so little, and I love it for doing that. The same can be said about the first Rocky, as well. Both those films are merely about a boxer trying to make a name for himself and both films will go down as classics. Yes, even you, Creed. We've had plenty of boxing movies over the last few years, but none have been nearly as brilliant as Creed. It wants to stand on its own? It can stand on its own. It really is one of the best films so far this year and I'm sure it'll be on plenty of people's top 10 lists come December and January, including mine.
To sum up, Creed is the best Rocky film we've gotten since the original, and even then it's not too far behind. It's powerful, emotional, uplifting, filmed to perfection and the two leads are at the top of their games. It's a film that really packs a punch.
4 1/2 Stars