FILM REVIEW – CREED. With Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew. Written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. 132 minutes.
In CREED, the latest film in the “Rocky” series (at nearly forty years old only a decade behind the James Bond series) Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) finally acts his age. He’s not looking for a final bout as in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” Instead he’s running a restaurant and letting people bask in the fading glow of his glory days. Enter Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan).
Adonis is actually the son of Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers early in the series. Young Adonis, whose late mother was someone with whom Apollo had a fling, is in and out of foster homes and juvenile halls. When we meet him, he’s being adopted by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad). Years pass and the now adult Adonis chucks a white collar career–where he was just promoted–to pursue his passion… (wait for it) …. boxing.
When he leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia and asks Rocky to train him, you can pretty much guess where the rest of the story is going. It’s hokey, it’s predictable–especially if you’ve seen the other “Rocky” films–and, if you’re a fan, it’s surprisingly engaging. Part of it is because Michael B. Jordan puts a fresh spin on the young-boxer-looking-for-a-break story, especially in a romance with a singer (Tessa Thompson) that throws some sparks.
A big reason is that Stallone–often an underrated actor whose good performances are sometimes overlooked–underplays the role. He’s been Rocky Balboa through six films and, unlike his Rambo, Rocky remains, at heart, a simple guy who never thought he would get so far. Here, as the aging ex-boxer, he’s kept his distance from the gym where he once trained and the sport he once defined. He’s also charmingly out-of-touch with the modern world in some ways, as in a scene where Adonis uses his smartphone to take a picture of Rocky’s instructions.
Naturally, he gets his share of melodramatic plot twists, not to be spoiled here except to note that it does not involve him boxing for the title. That’s left to an absurd opportunity where Adonis, having been revealed to be Creed’s son, is offered a championship bout against ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the British champion who is looking for a big payday before going off to prison. It’s totally unbelievable, or would be if this wasn’t a “Rocky” film where such make-or-break matches happen with regularity.
Fortunately, the three principal actors are engaging (as is Rashad, who is under-utilized), and there are plenty of nods to the earlier films that range from the poignant (Rocky having to exert himself to climb that iconic staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to nudge-in-the-ribs humor (Adonis moving into Paulie’s old room and finding his stash of porn magazines).
One might think this is the end of the series, but we hear about Rocky’s son who’s now living in Canada and there’s no telling what they’ll do if the movie is a hit. Fans of the latest James Bond film or the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel are allowed their fannish enjoyment. There’s no reason that fans of the “Rocky” series can’t have their time at the movies as well. This one’s for you.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.