CREED Review: This Movie Is An Absolute Knockout
Even if there were no Rocky, Creed would be a good movie. Even without an aged Sylvester Stallone offering one of his stone-cold best performances, the film would still have plenty to recommend. Above all else, that's its primary success. Creed's entire meta-theme (a very unique and special ingredient all the best Rocky movies share) revolves around the question of whether or not it and its main character can earn its/his own way in the face of constant comparisons to a much larger entity. It does. Adonis Creed is a character strong enough to follow all by himself. And where Adonis succeeds, Creed succeeds in equal measure.
But we need not limit ourselves to that hypothetical. This IS a Rocky movie, offering a dignifying new chapter for one of cinema's great characters while also honoring the entire series in a way perhaps only an outsider could have achieved. Creed doesn't just celebrate and lionize Rocky Balboa, it legitimizes and makes important even his worst film (Rocky IV, we can fight about it in the comments).
This isn't some cameo. Rocky is a huge, integral part of the film with both physical and emotional arcs to traverse. He's slower here, not even up to the punchy motormouth standards seen in Rocky Balboa. He's also lonelier than ever before, living well but without purpose. His son, with whom he reconnected in Rocky Balboa, now lives in Canada. Paulie's gone, Spider's gone, Little Marie is gone. Even Punchie's gone.
And here comes the son of his dead best friend, offering him a chance to enjoy the kind of parental relationship he never had with his own son while also giving him the chance to share the tools needed to overcome great odds in a short amount of time. As a Rocky sequel, Creed is legit.
Nevertheless, this is Creed's movie. Michael B. Jordan isn't just good here. He gives us a character worth rooting for without compromising any of his foibles or rough edges and also without resorting to any easy quirks or shorthand cheap shots. Adonis Creed doesn't want to coast on his father's legacy. He's quick to violence but has drive and respect. He bears marks of both the early upbringing of a street kid and an adolescence spent in luxury. He's a good fighter, totally self-taught. Fighting is not a choice for him. To whatever end possible, it's something he has to do. But he needs guidance, and he actually heeds it far better than Rocky did with Mickey.
Creed's particular goals are neither as large nor as immediately relatable as Rocky's were. His underdog arc is more specific, less universal. But it's perfect for a film that also has to act as a kind of franchise hand-off. Adonis and Rocky feed off each other and grow better together, which gives us strong emotional attachments to both characters, both when they're together and when they're apart. Since most of their relationship develops via training, Creed is easily the most boxing-oriented Rocky movie.
Speaking of the boxing, it's amazing what Ryan Coogler has accomplished here. Using long takes, physically talented actors (and non-actors), close camera work, and lots of spitting-blood showers, Creed makes cinematic boxing exciting and alive. I enjoy all Rocky fights because of the build up to them and the mini-narratives each one has. Creed has that but also benefits from the best boxing filmmaking of the series. This sort of approach wouldn't work in previous Rocky films but adds so much here.
You will cry during Creed. In perfect Rocky fashion, these moments come from small things - lines, quiet observations, little bits of performance. A lot of this comes from our love and nostalgia for Rocky, it's true, but the biggest sob moment for me came late in the film and was all about Creed. That's how much I learned to care about this character. Actually there are a few huge emotional moments in that last fight that will have you still drying your eyes on your drive home. I started tearing up very early in the film and stayed that way until it ended. It's not emotionally draining, but your softer side will be fully engaged throughout.
More than anything, I feel sincerely lucky to have this film. I can add it to my Rocky collection proudly and watch it over and over again with the other films without worrying about any dips in quality. It's great as its own thing but also works so well as a Rocky Balboa sequel. Like any movie, especially a spin-off, reboot type movie, this could have been awful. Instead it's probably the second best film in the series.