It’s no secret that I’m not in love with the wild number of reboots, extra sequels, re-imaginings that have been taking place recently. That said, the record this year would say something pretty different. Films in their 4, 5, 6 installments had the pleasure of being some of the best films this year. But what about a 7th installment? How can you find more life and good stories with a property this old and heralded? Creed finds some motivation and then some more…

By Kenneth Shipp

Adonis “Donny” Creed(Michael B. Jordan) is the son that Apollo Creed had out of wedlock and never got to raise because of his death in Rocky IV. Creed’s wife (Phylicia Rashād) seeks out Adonis after learning that his biological mother had also passed away. Donny can’t escape the call to fight, despite his adopted mother’s objections, and seeks out Rocky to train him. He has to leave LA since most of the gyms know him there and refuse to train. Particularly, Tommy, or “Little Duke” (Wood Harris,) doesn’t think Donny deserves a chance or that he’s tough enough. (Side note: Tommy is the son of Tony Evers or “Duke”, Apollo’s trainer and Rocky’s eventual trainer after Mickey passes away.)

At first, I disliked that they had to add infidelity to Apollo’s story in order to make this film happen. But when I started to chew on it and see it play out, it makes for a more interesting dynamic between Donny and his dead father. Is he trying to make a name for himself? Why won’t he take his father’s name? Once the cat is out of the bag and every one knows who his father was, why does that knowledge infuriate him at points? These questions are posed routinely throughout the entire film and wash away the soap opera feeling that I got in the very beginning. Additionally, while she didn’t have many lines, Rashād’s presence as Donny’s mother and her performance help sell this new information to the audience. It may not have worked as well with someone else.

I wasn’t sure what we would get with second time director Ryan Coogler. His work with Jordan on Fruitvale Station produced a very solid film. There’s even more of the same quality and better here. They really nailed it when it comes to Donny and Rocky’s friendship, simple things like calling him “Uncle” or “Unc” made it feel genuine and unforced. Jordan is able to really let his humorous side shine through in these moments. Stallone was able to easily bring back the Balboa speech pattern and drawl to great effect. Together, they created a powerhouse and I loved their moments together. It reminded me of Rocky and Paulie’s conversations in Paulie’s house and the meat locker; just two guys shooting the breeze.

Those moments along with so many other nods to the original film really won me over. They put us back in Philadelphia so we had the feel of the city again. They actually paid a lot of attention to the craft of boxing and while there were still montages in this film, they spent scene after scene doing drills over and over while moving the story along. The fact that they didn’t just gloss over these crucial spots showed that this stories’ focus was in the right place. Even the setup for the final fight and how it plays out are showing major respect to the first film. It’s a welcome nod that pulls this film away from the comical direction the series took when it got to installments 3, 4, and 5.

The cinematography was superb and stands out for the circular shot pattern used during the fights. Many of us were shouting in the theater for a fictional character, but I believe that happened because of how limited the cuts and fades were during those scenes. There’s more cuts during the final fight, but even so, all 3 of Creed’s big matches were displayed with the majority of them being one continuous shot. I could tell the fighters were a bit polished after filming, so that was a bit distracting, however that may have been to reduce any blurring effect. I’ll hopefully learn more about how they shot those moments soon. When you watch, these will stand out as being amazing fights visually and for their extremely well-crafted choreography.

Ludwig Göransson wasn’t a musician on my radar before, but the way he mixed together the original Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” along with the main score was superb. You may not catch it if you haven’t recently watched the first Rocky, but it was phenomenal and has to be recognized. It’s another nod and appreciation to the original film and the spirit in which it was made. I love the theme “You Are A Creed” used towards the end of the last fight and the end credits suite; they are the best example of the combinations I’m geeking out about.

Creed could have been another let down in a franchise that may or may not have needed any new life. But new life it has found and in a very solid way. Coogler makes full use of his time having worked with Jordan before to craft a stellar boxing film and pay homage to one of the best in the genre all in one swoop.

Creed: 9 out of 10

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