Rocky Balboa and Sylvester Stallone are linked forever in cinema history, with Stallone playing the beloved, fictional boxer Rocky in seven films which now also includes the excellent Creed, a story of yet another young aspiring boxer that ought to have been formulaic, certainly the structure of the script is such, but ends up instead excelling and transcending its particular genre.
Adonis Johnson, played by , is the illegitimate son of the undisputed Michael B. Jordanheavyweight champion Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s nemesis, competitor, and late friend. With both parents dead, Adonis aka Donnie, bounces around foster homes and juvenile detention facilities until Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) removes him from the system and gives him a deeply loving home.
With the Creed legacy behind him, Donnie quits his job as a young adult, terrifying Mary Anne, and sets off for Philadelphia in search of Rocky, who he hopes will train his already not so insignificant propensity for knocking people out. Cornering Rocky at his Italian restaurant, Donnie arouses the former star’s curiosity but not his commitment to coach him. The rest, well, you know how these things go.
The reason for Creed’s immense success is threefold, the sensitive retelling of a familiar story, the casting of incredible actors, with people like Tessa Thompson shining as Donnie’s musician girlfriend whose hearing is deteriorating, and a deep understanding and reverence for a franchise that has always succeeded because of Rocky/Stallone (the two are practically synonymous) at its heart.
The travails of Rocky, Donnie, and Bianca become inter-twined as the three become a family unit of sorts, a development that is delightful to watch. The dynamics between the three characters, their growing affection for each other and the sly humour and good natured raillery written into the script make for such naturalistic dialogue that often you are tricked into thinking this is a window into a slice of urban Philadelphia life.
The boxing sequences, of which there are many, are beautifully choreographed, with no excessive cutting from director Ryan Coogler, who conceived the story and co-wrote the excellent screenplay. The camera only watches, moving delicately around the action in the ring, never, ever trying to outdo the crucial drama unfolding there.
Donnie, whose secret is soon out, is a born star, a man whose destiny is to box, who could so easily have become a brute and an ingrate, but is saved by the grace of Mary Anne, Rocky Balboa, the beautiful Bianca, and his own courageous heart.
Boxing fan or not (I’m not particularly into pugilism myself) Creed is a wonderful film; one worth seeing for Stallone’s understated, subtly heart-wrenching performance, and a portrayal of true sportsmanship.