Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Nine years after Rocky Balboa allowed Philadelphia's favorite son to step into the ring one last time comes an unexpected sequel in Creed. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), the new film hearkens back to the themes of the original Rocky while putting a fresh take on the tale of an underdog boxer overcoming the odds to earn his big chance. Creed is as close to a reboot as you could get without recasting the Italian Stallion as a young man and not only pays tribute to the original series but sets the stage or any number of possible sequels. It may not be as good as the original, but it stands up well in comparison to any of the Rocky sequels.

With the aging Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) taking on the Burgess Meredith role of mentor and reluctant trainer, Creed's star is Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Michael B. Jordan). The bastard son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Donnie's love for fighting and need to prove himself inside the square circle leads him from a desk job in Los Angeles, and underground boxing in Mexico, to Philly. His first step is to convince his father's friend to give Donnie the training and help he needs to make it to the big time.

Although Donnie's story has its own melody, the beats in the film are quite similar to the original Rocky as the young kid fights for respect and to earn his big break. Stepping into the Talia Shire role, Tessa Thompson is a worthy successor to Adrian as the spirited local musician who Donnie immediately falls for. Rounding out the cast are Phylicia Rashad as Apollo's widow who took Donnie in following her husband's death and Tony Bellew as the undefeated champion facing legal trouble and looking for one last big payday.

Creed is almost too like Rocky for its own good. Despite a different character and actor in the main role the film is a little too familiar in how it unfolds. Even the subplot involving Rocky's health reminds us of of Mickey and his death in the third film of the franchise. As good as the movie is, and it is unexpectedly well-made for the seventh film in a 40 year-old franchise, I think Creed could have been even better if it had chosen to color outside the lines of the Rocky template with a little more zeal. Even if it doesn't quite knock you out, Creed proves it can go the distance... and for a Rocky movie how much more can you ask?

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