Like many of us, writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) grew up watching Rocky movies. He did so with his father. It was their thing. But before he could reboot the franchise with Creed, he had to receive Sylvester Stallone’s blessing. Stallone, who stars in and is a producer of the film, had previously played one of the most iconic characters in film history in six Rocky films over nearly four decades.
Coogler had come up with the story and partnered with fellow writer Aaron Covington on the screenplay. Leaning into the carefully crafted pugilist legacy, Coogler wanted Creed to evoke the gritty, old-school style of the earliest Rocky pictures while also forging its own modern-day identity. Naturally, he sought to do justice to the characters, to create a film that could cross the divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials.
He focused on the relationship that develops between Rocky Balboa and the son of the man we first met in the Rocky movies. He was then the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in the first four Rocky films).
Adonis Johnson Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan – who worked with Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station) never knew his famous father, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa. Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks down Rocky and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo, the fierce rival who became his close friend.
Creed also stars Tessa Thompson (Selma) as Bianca, a local singer-songwriter who becomes involved with Adonis and Phylicia Rashad (formerly Clair Huxtable in television’s The Cosby Show) as Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow.
Restarting the Rocky franchise was always going to be a tough ask, but Sylvester Stallone and co have tackled it with gusto and the result is pretty good. Michael B. Jordan makes a decent fist of playing the young Creed, even if, on occasions, the story appears a little too contrived and somewhat thin. He plays a guy that gets off to a rough start and wants to forge a legacy of his own, rather than living in his father’s shadow. Stallone looks good for his age (he’s just turned 70) and you can actually understand what he is saying, unlike his performance in much of the original, which – as I recollect – he mumbled his way through.
The training and the fight action sequences are intense and well choreographed. The music, which appears to be a succession of variants of the original Rocky theme, is strong, pulsating and exhilarating. Appropriately, Creed is reverential towards the legacy that is and remains Rocky. At nearly 2¼ hours it is a long sit through though, some prudent pruning wouldn’t have gone astray. Rated M, Creed scores a 7 out of 10.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television