CREED: Still A 'Rocky' Movie, But Packs A Punch All Its Own


Today's age of remakes and reboots is not without its share of criticisms. Some fans are hardliners and purists about their favorite franchises and largely choose not to have them reobserved in any way shape or fashion, which can both be a good and a bad thing despite many opinions. For the instance of the launch of the next installation of the Rocky saga, Creed, this is most certainly a good thing, notwithstanding its explosive opening weekend at the box office. The film takes its cues directly from that of its predecessors with a new face on the frontline and it does so in a way that respects its origins with an adherance to substance over style and a look ready to engage a new era of moviegoers.

Michael B. Jordan, back once again with director Ryan Coogler following their accolades hugely earned in the 2012 biopictoral drama, Fruitvale Station, takes the lead for this premiere launch in the role of Adonis Johnson, a troubled young boy lost within the system who lands a bittersweet reunion with his long lost mother, Mary-Anne Creed, played by actress Philycia Rashad. Years later, young Adonis is a much older, self-taught in boxing and, much to his chagrin, is often confronted unwillingly with being the son of the father he never knew and the name he carries within the boxing circles. Growing impatient with his sluggish prospects in Los Angeles and against the wishes of his mother, he relocates to Philadelphia for a fresh start, and eventually crosses paths with the man himself, Rocky Balboa, reprised once more by actor Sylvester Stallone.

The two stike a reluctant partnership that not only grows over time, but allows room enough for Balboa to ponder the pros and cons of training the son of a man he once watched die in the ring. Soon enough, they ultimately commit to one another in preparation for Johnson's young career while also tending to his newfound courtship with neighboring musician, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. As the film moves forward, Johnson's career in boxing is off to a fresh start with Balboa in his corner and they ultimately catch the attention of the UK's number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, played by light heavyweight and cruiserweight boxer Tony Bellew making his acting debut.

In an urgent move to save Conlan's own career, his trainer, Tommy, played by actor Graham McTavish, arranges a meeting with Balboa to announce a match between their two prospects. They eventually accept the offer, but not before realizing what it could mean for Johnson in the wake of rediscovering himself in the wake of his father's legacy as the world watches. This, coupled with the ringside and locker room politics Balboa is forced to deal with on top of his own internal struggles and yearning to be at peace in his old age, sets the stage for a comeback on not one, but two fronts in an explosive finale that will ultimately determine what being a champion is all about.

Looking back on the last six Rocky films up to the 2006 film, Rocky Balboa, you might not have guessed there would be another film that would follow suit. I sure didn't see it coming and I wouldn't undermine the possibility that others did, and for what it's worth, I'm delighted that it happened in the form of Creed. Jordan continues to prove his chops as a definitive actor able to cut his teeth into roles as demanding as this one. His physicality leaves a just impression during the film's respective training and boxing sequences, and especially among Bellew and middleweight pros, actors Andre Ward and Gabe Rosado, and these also lend credit to some of the amazing cinematography in conjunction with the fight scenes by coordinator Clayton Barber.

Rashad lends her usual gravitas to the screen purposefully carrying the film between time frames at the top of the film while young actor Alex Henderson's performance gets things going in solid fashion. Actors Wood Harris and Ritchie Coster add plenty to the film's multilayered development for our protagonists while Jordan's chemistry blossoms with Thompson whose portrayal of Bianca brings its own unique caliber with respect to Talia Shire's "Adrian" of yesteryear. Bearing all these in mind, however, the best thing the drama offers throughout the film is the relationship shared between Balboa and the Johnson. Stallone in his seventh stint as the iconic film character, continues to deliver knockout dialogue that is never without charm or authenticity, which is quite expected and equally accepted since it's a role he has owned for close to forty years.

In terms of the film's overall narrative, there's a lot of push for a "new legacy" from time to time which is still a little hard to sink our teeth into right away since the film sits within the Rocky universe. There's no escaping that fact as long as Stallone remains prevalent and this is not necessarily a bad thing, just quite the opposite, although that does depend on how much you choose to weigh-in the whole "new legacy" vibe. Graciously, this particular story element is far from rushed, but eased into the fray as we continue to learn more about our protagonist and exactly why it is we need to support him.

The film's Philadelphia setting is a welcoming one which helps capture the necessary energy to nurture Creed in its progression, even and especially for moviegoers who might be new to the franchise altogether. The environment is new as well as most of the people, and front and center of it all is Balboa; He maintains a bit more discretion nowadays but still commands respect among his boxing ilk without saying a word, and has seen everything and everyone come and go, often like a man in a time capsule who, thankfully, still steps out once in a while to get some fresh air. This further embodies many of the film's references to Balboa's stoicism and themes central to underdog stories, and if there's one thing the Rocky canon has always been about, its rooting for the underdog - something that explicitly benefits Jordan as he transcends the franchise with Creed.

Coogler is a fantastic director and is as hungry and driven as Stallone has suggested on Twitter, which is what I feel would make him a fantastic choice to helm another picture together. Until then, another round for Jordan and Coogler definitely goes a long way with Creed in what now aspires to be another stellar foray into the boxing drama. Some fans of the franchise already question if whether or not the film regurgitates themes and story points they've already observed in previous films, and that's probably true in a way; The film's formula is largely identical to certain areas of all of the films dating back to John G. Avildsen's 1976 movie, Rocky. However, if you are able and, or willing to look past this particular issue, you still get to witness the worthy growth of a cinematic universe that bares a sense freshness and vitality that stands the test of time. Creed works to exemplify this in many ways with an adherance to some of aesthetics that make Rocky such a great franchise to experience, while establishing itself as a signature expansion on one of its franchise's most emblematic characters.

The film proves that the Rocky saga is more than what it has been in the last four decades, otherwise answering questions that fans might have been curious or intrigued by as sprawling as the Rocky movies may have been; What has Apollo Creed's life been like apart from what we already know about Rocky? How many children does he have? What kind of story would we get beyond Rocky if there were? Indeed, these questions could be answered in a lot of ways through a few of the characters; I'll even go as far as to say these could apply to the Ivan Drago end of the Rocky spectrum via actor Dolph Lundgren, and imagining how intriguing it would be if he were brought into the fray for Jordan's newfound spotlight with Creed.

I am certain one or several of these ideas could work for future Creed installments should the studio see it fitting. But again, that just goes to show how much of a benefit time has been for Stallone and what he helped conjure in a character like Rocky Balboa. Underdog stories are universal and Creed surely tells an amazing one, and that's not to merely imply it would be an easy task to achieve as critical as some moviegoers are when it comes to remakes and reboots. In that regard, some of these movies aren't meant for everyone, and so its probably worthwhile for Stallone and Rocky franchise producer Irwin Winkler to have stayed on board for Creed as they did.

Nevertheless and regardless of what some may think, films like these really are made for everyone to see with a distinct appreciation for the material that is already there. Creed is a film that is very careful in how it enters the arena with the continuation of Balboa's story as a living patriarch of boxing movie lore to oversee the introduction of a new challenger with his own story to tell. And like the earlier films, time will surely allow Creed the opportunity it deserves to grow become as epic as the Rocky franchise has been.

For all that Creed could have been, it's a film that plays it smart both inside the ring and out with the right characters and balance for a protagonist worthy of its title. The film promisingly sticks to what it knows best while moving quite synonymously in advancement of a character that aims not so much to redefine underdog stories or even try to redefine Rocky as a whole. Rather, it simply strives to reinvigorate them through terrific storytelling, drama and thrilling center-ring action that will have you on the edge of your seat, making Creed more than worthy of its name, and all the more rewarding to watch ahead of what one can only hope will be the first of a new chapter of its own saga to come.

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