Rocky Balboa is back — as a supporting character in a boxing film. While that may sound strange to long-time Italian Stallion fans, they should rest easy: Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a welcome addition to the Rocky universe.
For movie fans who have been living under a rock, Michael B. Jordan stars as the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson. The young man never met his father, who died in the ring during Rocky IV at the hands of Ivan Drago. Johnson’s mother also died when he was a boy, but Mary Anne Creed (played by Phylicia Rashad) took him in as her own.
It isn’t surprising to see what kind of themes are explored as Johnson attempts to define himself as a man while working his way out of his father’s shadow (e.g., abandonment, coping with death, letting go of the past, the importance of family). What is surprising is just how well Coogler pulls it all off — not for any lack of talent on his part, but because he is trying to succeed while tinkering with the “Rocky” brand.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain the movie’s worth to the franchise is to rank it in terms of the other films.
A convincing case can be made that Creed is the second-best movie featuring Balboa, if Oscar-contention is used as part of the litmus test. Coogler has given fans a drama. He has given them a tale of two men who slowly realize that if we become a prisoner to the past then we risk losing any number of potentially-beautiful futures.
Creed is not a movie for people who want to see larger than life characters like “Clubber Lang” or popcorn-movie gold like Rocky IV. It’s an tale that respects the source material, particularly 1976’s Rocky, but at the same time is very much its own film.
And for those who want to know how Johnson’s love interest, Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson), matches up with Adrian (Talia Shire), the answer is the same: Rest easy. Bianca is a welcome addition the the “Rocky” universe.
In short, everything in Creed feels natural. Nothing seems awkward or forced, which is good because the accomplishment has paved the way for a sequel if the creative team wants it.
The only way Coogler could have done a better job is if he invented a time machine and stopped Rocky V from ever happening, or Michael B. Jordan from signing on for Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four.