CREED produces best Rocky story in 36 years

During recent weeks, all I heard about the seventh film in the Rocky series, Creed, was that it wasn’t needed. Fair game I figured. The sixth film seemed to put a nice stamp on the series after a lackluster fifth entry so why push it? When you leave this film, you will know why it was made. The Rocky Balboa saga comes full circle here and is the strongest film in the series since Rocky 2, which was made 36 years ago. It has a lot to do with Sylvester Stallone, the epitome of the tough hardened streets of Philadelphia this tale was born on. He’s never been better and bares EVERYTHING as an old, tired and lonely champ who sees a chance to redeem something when Apollo Creed’s son Adonis finds him at Adrian’s restaurant. Let me explain…

Some actors get better with age. Others fade into the distance, taken over by younger talents never to be found again. As he has gracefully plowed into his late 60’s, Sylvester Stallone has found his stride. He blows things up with the Expendables, makes a light film like Grudge Match, and returns to either Rambo or Rocky. He’s old, rich, well known and can do whatever he wants. With his latest film, Stallone packs the hardest punch in his entire career. He gave his baby and the rights to the characters to writer/director Ryan Coogler. This guy didn’t just pick up a script and say let’s go make a movie. Coogler had intentions here and something to add to the series. If not, Sly would have never given it over. Creed is the first Rocky film Stallone didn’t write.  The result is a special Thanksgiving treat that took me back to my first Rocky film when I was just five years old. Creed will fill loyal fans of the series with nostalgic thoughts while entertaining newcomers aka the young hashtag crowd.

The story is simple enough. Adonis(Michael B. Jordan, perfectly cut from the boxing mold and sharing an uncanny resemblance to Carl Weathers) is a lost soul at 30. The film opens with Apollo’s wife(not Adonis’ mother) taking him in from juvenile detention and raising him in her house. Adonis wrestles with the fact that he never knew his dad yet shares so many things in common, such as fighting. He quits his day job and goes to Philly to track down his father’s roots and Rocky.

The scene where he walks into the restaurant and asks Balboa who won that unofficial tussle from the end of Rocky 3 is perfectly scripted, acted and laid out. Coogler has a confidence with the camera that most young directors don’t have. He lets Stallone and Jordan do the lifting and circles them like they are fighters in a ring. From there, it’s cake talking. Rocky trains Adonis after initially declining and they are off. I don’t need to explain the rest. There’s a girl(Tessa Thompson), a few bumps, training montages(NO eye of the tiger) and a climactic fight.

Jordan is the perfect sparring partner for Stallone. He proved in Fruitvale Station that he could carry a film and tear into a role. The two actors meld into their roles seamlessly, conveying emotion and historical relevance like it’s following their footsteps. Jordan is a dynamic young talent and physically gifted so he convinces just as much in the ring as he does out of it. Stallone feeds off his energy and gives it all he’s got.

Coogler’s script is even better than his directing, filling the spaces in between the fight scenes with true grit from a fighter’s life. It’s believable and emotionally satisfying without being repetitive or manipulative.

I can’t say enough how good Stallone is. This is his baby. His stomping ground. With no offense to John Rambo, Rocky Balboa will always be the part I associate Sly with. I grew up watching him kick butt, take names and look good doing it in other roles but Rocky is his personal stage to swing the wrecking ball. Here, weary and gray, he goes for broke. Maybe due to the fact he didn’t write or direct, Sly could fully plug into the role and push harder. There are three scenes in Creed where he will break your heart. Smashing it to pieces with his poignant take on a boxer who searches for reasons to get up in the morning and keep throwing punches. Underrated for his entire career due to his action bravado, Stallone can act and do a lot with a look. The moment he goes “how you doin” or sits next to Adrian and Paulie’s grave to tell them what’s what, you just sit back and smile, realizing the actor is home again.

The boxing scenes in the series have always been stellar because they respect the true craft and sweet science of boxing and combat. Creed is no different. Real boxers like Andre Ward and Tony Bellew make cameos here and add authenticity to the film. The training scenes are legit boxing tutorials that give off knowledge if one is paying attention. The film carries a dirty lived in look that serves the fight game well. Coogler has respect for the characters and the world here, infusing it with flashbacks of the previous films and using part of the score and the same locations.

When I left the theater, my good friend, a former MMA fighter and beast of a human being, told me watching this movie took him back to those pre-fight emotions and internal energy. Some films can do that to you. They make you want to revisit a part of your own history because a connection was made. They hook you.

Creed wasn’t just good. It was surprisingly great and made for a purpose. The strongest film in the franchise since Rocky II. See it for Stallone. See it with the family. See it to revisit this cinematic champ one last time before Sly decides to hang them up.

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