I’ve never been a massive fan of the “Rocky” series. Of course, the first one is great and an undeniable classic, but the ones following didn’t interest me as much beyond that. There’s obviously the cheesy fun that comes with “Rocky IV,” but even then, it felt somewhat out of place for me amongst the series. Despite this, I was pleased to hear of the spin-off film focusing on the son of Apollo Creed, but not so much as a continuation of the Rocky storyline, because of Ryan Coogler being behind the camera on this film, with his star of “Fruitvale Station,” Michael B. Jordan in front of the camera. This pairing has obviously worked wonders in the past, but can it work again? Jordan is undeniably a great actor, but has been bogged down with choices in poor movies like “That Awkward Moment” and the god-awful “Fantastic Four,” which I can’t really blame him for, but an IMDb profile is forever.
Luckily, “Creed” brings us the “Fruitvale Station” glory we’ve come to love and does even more to elevate black cinema to the level it and its stories deserve to be at.
Jordan, playing Adonis Johnson (called Adonis Creed in the ring), could be completely mistaken for an actor different than the one in “Fantastic Four,” seeing as he not only does well in this film, he’s — dare I say it — a knockout. Jordan is an actor that’s capable of a wide range of emotion in a single scene, seamlessly transitioning from anger to vulnerability to remorse to happiness without ever having to cut away from his face, he’s simply that good. Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa to this installment as Adonis’ trainer and father figure. Stallone has never been an actor that has been hailed for his dramatic prowess in front of the camera, but Stallone has truly never been better. Sure, he still has that famous accent/lisp that sometimes makes it hard to understand him, but you get the feeling that he and Jordan have real chemistry off camera that translates fabulously on camera. Stallone’s pain in life is felt to a heartbreaking extent, perhaps stemming from his son’s 2012 death, Rocky is the most vulnerable he’s ever been here and it’s a beauty of a performance.
But the film isn’t all about the boys, though. Tessa Thompson, whom I believe is one of the best actresses of this generation, plays an incredibly believable and likable love interest, Bianca, whom Adonis meets from her loud music downstairs. One thing that I loved was that Bianca was hearing-impaired, with progressive hearing loss, which never once is treated as a malady for her character, it just simply is. I wish more mainstream films treated disabilities in such an understanding and normalized manner, if they even include characters with disabilities at all. Phylicia Rashad plays Adonis’ adoptive mother in the film and unsurprisingly, as she being Phylicia Rashad, puts forth wonderful work. I wish Rashad had been in the film more, as her scenes with Jordan were harrowing and raw, but what we have is enough for me.
Director Ryan Coogler did something strange with “Creed,” something you don’t see often: he made it a hybrid film. In dialogue scenes, the film felt like a low-budget indie film that you might see at Sundance, with a raw, realistic, occasionally gritty feel to it. But when things begin to heat up, the film plays like a big-budget action film with sweeping shots, quick, yet never obnoxious editing and an intense score by Ludwig Göransson, the film plays just as big as any superhero film just as it does something like Coogler’s past work. It’s fascinating and thrilling to watch all at the same time.
There’s a myth in Hollywood that black cinema is poison, with Tyler Perry films being at the butt of the joke. If the past year has taught us anything, is that that myth is bullsh*t in every regard. With films like “Selma,” “Dope,” “Straight Outta Compton” and now “Creed” proving that black cinema, black filmmakers, black writers and black actors are no less talented or capable than their white counterparts. That the successes of black cinema aren’t just a “rarity” or “luck,” as some people like to call it. I didn’t think that in 2015, I would still be having to remind people of this, but here we are.
“Creed” is a film that astonishes from start to finish. A quick-paced storyline streamlined with wondrous direction and writing, incredible performances, including Sylvester Stallone at a career high, and a story that touched the heart of every person in the theater, as well as invested each person in the theater enough to make the movie-going experience like attending an actual boxing match, that’s a special film. “Creed,” despite its PG-13 rating, is a film for the entire family, touching, inspiring and uplifting to all, make it a family night if you don’t go see “The Good Dinosaur,” just don’t blame me if your kids start boxing each other.
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew
Runtime: 132 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures present, in association with New Line Cinema, a Chartoff Winkler production, “Creed”