“Apollo? Yeah, he was great. Perfect fighter. Ain’t nobody ever better,” says Rocky Balboa. Adonis Johnson asks, “So how did you beat him?” Rocky replies, “Time beat him. Time, you know, takes everybody out. It’s undefeated.”
A cinematic icon was born 40 years ago with the release of the Oscar-winning Rocky, which featured a star-making turn by Sylvester Stallone as a small-time boxer named Rocky Balboa who gets a shot at the world heavyweight champion and tries to make the most of the opportunity. It was followed by five sequels, including 2006’s Rocky Balboa (which I actually got to see on the big screen during its original theatrical release). Rocky Balboa was believed to be the final chapter in the Rocky franchise until Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler developed a pitch for a spinoff film that would focus on the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Rocky’s rival-turned-best friend). Naturally, the Rocky Balboa character would need to be involved in some capacity, prompting the recruitment of Stallone for the new film (which would also star Coogler’s Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan as Creed’s son). I recently had the chance to see Coogler’s Creed on the big screen, and it was such a moving and thrilling experience.
2015’s Creed follows Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of the late World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed, as he embarks on his own boxing career and travels to Philadelphia to enlist the aid of Apollo’s greatest rival and friend, former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa. Coogler gathers a terrific ensemble that includes Michael B. Jordan (as Adonis Creed), Sylvester Stallone (as Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (as Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (as Mary Anne Creed), Tony Bellew (as “Pretty” Ricky Conlan), Graham McTavish (as Tommy Holiday), and Wood Harris (as Tony “Little Duke” Evers). Jordan is outstanding as Creed’s son, showing the drive and tenacity Adonis needs in trying to create his own legacy as well as vulnerability in his doubts about taking on his father’s name. Stallone gives a Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated performance (Best Supporting Actor)* as former champ Balboa, who must confront his own mortality as he decides whether or not to help train Adonis and then, later on, contemplating whether he should undergo chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or not. Thompson also shines as Adonis’ love interest, an aspiring singer/songwriter who’s slowly going deaf.
Coogler’s strong direction draws award-worthy performances from the cast and he stages some rousing boxing bouts. The screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington explores the effects of one man’s legacy on his family as well as an underdog story that mirrors the story of the original Rocky (kudos to Coogler for its excellent execution). The editing by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver moves the film at a great pace, intensifying the action in the training montages and pumping up the boxing bouts while allowing the quieter, dramatic beats to breathe. Ludwig Goransson delivers a knock-out score with a memorable theme for Adonis and rousing, dramatic music (especially for the training montages). Coogler delivers a knock-out (sorry; I can’t help it) film (only his second feature!) that continues the Rocky franchise while spinning it in a new, exciting direction.
*Hopefully soon-to-be Oscar-winning performance.