When Rocky rocked theatres and The Academy in 1976, audiences cheered on as the less than $1 million-budgeted film grossed a knockout $176, 235, 247 at the box office. As the Italian Stallion, Sylvester Stallone gave a fighting voice to the thousands of working class Philadelphians by rising from those very streets to the world stage against the defending title champion, Apollo Creed. Some odd 39 years and 4 sequels later, the 69-year old has finally accepted his age before a potentially disastrous Rocky VI, but isn’t ready to lay down the franchise just yet. Taking Michael B. Jordon as Adonis Johnson under his wing, Sly revisits a Rocky who acknowledges he’s past his prime but still seeks salvation in training the son of the man he unintentionally let get killed by Karl Drago (Rocky IV) in that ring all those years ago. With conflicting views of a father he never knew, Adonis abandons his dress shirt and tie to follow in his father’s shoes—intent to earn the name of the world’s once-greatest boxer by the side of the very man who dethroned and unwillingly killed him.
Yet, Creed isn’t a modern day remake nor is it a quick Thanksgiving cash grab; it’s a Rocky for a new generation. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler with the aid of scribe Aaron Covington, the creative duo, like Adonis, are looking to make a name for themselves, and boy have they ever surprised. Flowing with the hip-hop sounds and urban pride, Creed thrives on contemporary cultural undertones alongside the elderly Italian. The initially dependent Adrian from the first film is replaced by the independent Bianca (Tessa Thomson) opposite to Adonis—sporting a promising music career and intolerance for bullshit. Just as tough, however, is Coogler and Cinematographer Maryse Alberti’s grounded rendering of Philly, both in and outside the ring. Lit by the natural flooding of sunlight either in the gym or the street, or intensified with dimly lit tunnels, shots in and leading into the ring are extended for as long as possible. Without a series of cuts, Adonis feels more vulnerable; seeing him walk into the ring, punch, get punched, and punch again all in the same take feels raw and authentic. The accord of Coogler to demand the boxing prowess, focus, and trust of Jordon exudes in these heart-pounding moments.
The world, however, feels just as genuine outside the ring. Philadelphia has remembered Rocky: posters hang in the gym, local officers offer kindness any way they can, and even real-life sport media such as Pardon The Interruption refers to his legacy. Apollo is equally engraved, and the significance of Rocky training his son isn’t lost on the locals, the boxing community, and, most importantly, Adonis. The bond the two share is impeccable. Stallone’s roughly slurred dialect is perfectly suited in the trainer’s chair—beaming with heart as the pairing humorously feed off their ages, and help fight each other’s respective battles.
That isn’t to say Adonis is being breed as the next Rocky. Much like the film itself, there are many similarities between the two but Adonis and Creed are wholly their own. And the beats they do match are as carefully selected as they are handled. Manifesting perhaps most compellingly in the final montage before the climatic title match, the aforementioned cultural undertones exhibit a unique, and equally moving parallel to Rocky’s iconic stair ascend. Yet, for as touching as the scene was, the moment I knew this film’s rating donned upon me when a new invigorating orchestral rendition of the classic “Gonna Fly Now” theme began playing in the final moments of the title bout. That is when I knew I had just witnessed something special.
Creed receives a 5/5