Creed (2015)


Sylvester Stallone paid proper tribute and respect to his character Rocky Balboa with the final chapter in his saga “Rocky Balboa.” The character deserved the poetic finale after the clunker that was “Rocky V.” Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” is an utter accomplishment that works as a part of Rocky Balboa’s tale, and as the beginning of a new underdog saga. What initially seemed like a lame cash in, is a brilliant twist on the underdog tale with Stallone turning his sights Balboa’s rival and friend Apollo Creed. What was viewed as a sad death in a camp classic in “Rocky IV” carries over in to “Creed,” where Apollo’s death has had a serious significant effect.

This is especially true with his illegitimate long lost child from another woman Adonis, who has spent his life in and out of juvenile hall. Director Ryan Coogler helps Stallone somewhat inverse the idea of the underdog story by chronicling the rise of Adonis Johnson, a young man who has spent all of his life fighting and literally has no idea how to do anything else. Michael B. Jordan is brilliant as young Adonis, who is hungry and anxious for a big title match just like Rocky Balboa and willing to break free from the confines of his upper class upbringing if it helps his technique as a fighter. He travels to Philadelphia for the purposes of being mentored by Rocky Balboa, who is still a man very much in his elderly state and no more of a myth than a man.

Despite his resistance, Adonis charms Rocky and wins him over, despite Rocky’s state as a hermit. Stallone pulls off the idea of an elderly Balboa beautifully, depicting the “Italian Stallion” as a man growing feeble with age. Like Adonis, Balboa is still living under the shadow of his former persona and spends most of his time living in the past. Adonis doesn’t just re-invigorate Rocky’s interest in life, but helps Rocky channel a lot of the skill he acquired and bring it to Adonis, who has something to prove to the world and to himself. With the inclusion of Rocky, it isn’t just Stallone’s efforts to plug the film in to the Balboa saga, but it offers Adonis personal stakes to fight for, especially when he forms a genuine love for Rocky as something of a surrogate son.

While Balboa is a crucial part of the story, “Creed” is Adonis’ origin and how he struggles to step out of the giant shadow of Apollo Creed. Creed is a man Adonis has never known, but casts something of stigma on his efforts to claim the title as a valid boxer. Jordan portrays Adonis as a flawed and conflicted young man teeming with rage, who has to figure out how to slay his personal demons and channel his anger in the ring to garner respect. The interplay between Balboa and Johnson provides some of the very best moments of the film, as the co-stars Stallone and Jordan work wonderfully off of one another and bring something great out of each other. This becomes apparent when the characters form the same mentor and protégé relationship Mickey and Rocky did, except Rocky knows what happens to every sports legend.

Rocky’s goal is to help Adonis accomplish something so much more personal and meaningful than success as an athlete as now he and Mickey are merely signs and stats on walls in local gyms and really nothing else. Such is the fate of all sports heroes. For Jordan, playing such an important character in the Balboa mythology is a heavy duty and he pulls the role off without a single hitch, giving the character emotion, rage, and genuine heart. Like Rocky, he’s a big man with a soft heart, and his introduction in “Creed” is the beginning of a very long journey involving coming to terms with the legend of Apollo Creed, and figuring out how to carve out a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. “Creed” is a marvelous sports drama packed with emotion and complex ideas about living up to legends and fulfilling expectations given by others and by ones self.