Creed, quite simply, is a winner. It is a fantastic film that will stir your soul. Boxing dramas can be hideously contrived. Creed is formulaic at times, but its great strength is that it surpasses convention. Creed builds relationships, establishes depth, and takes the audience on a journey that is profoundly uplifting. We also get to see a legendary actor and movie persona at their best in decades. Creed is not Rocky VII. It is a continuation of the story with a new character as the focus. Director Ryan Coogler, who stunned the world with his gripping debut - Fruitvale Station, delivers a knockout blow with Creed.
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis "Donnie" Johnson, the illegitimate youngest child of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who was killed fighting in Rocky IV. Orphaned as a child. He bounces from foster homes and juvenile detention, until his adoption by Apollo Creed's widow (Phylicia Rashad). Donnie's fortune changes. He is loved, educated, and becomes a successful office worker under his new mother's care. But he is his father's son. The ring beckons. A deep seeded anger, sense of abandonment, and longing leads him to start fighting in Mexico. Horrified by this turn of events, his mother refuses to support his boxing ambitions. Donnie decides to give up his life in Los Angeles and go to Philadelphia. In search of the one man who can help him find who he truly is, and if he has what it takes to step out of his father's shadow, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
The relationship between Donnie and Rocky is beautifully told. It is an honest account of two lost souls finding each other. The Rocky we see here is not the Italian stallion of old. Rocky has aged. The boxing world, everyone he loved, has passed. A particularly heart wrenching scene has Rocky sitting by the graves of Adrian and Paulie, talking about his day, about meeting a young man who wants to be a boxer. Donnie gives Rocky someone to believe in again. Donnie affectionately calls Rocky "Unc". He becomes the mentor, father figure that Donnie has yearned for his entire life. It sounds sappy as hell, but believe me, it is not. Creed is emotionally powerful, a testament to character development and chemistry.
The fighting scenes are fierce and realistic. Coogler is smart enough to not go overboard. Donnie is not a superman. We see him training, getting beaten to a pulp, actually learning to fight. Michael B. Jordan is exceptional. His character is not talkative. Donnie's longing to prove that he is not just a name, conflicts with that boy who would have given anything to meet his father. Much of what we see comes from his reactions in the ring. He is uncaged, finally able to let his emotions loose. This is when the real Donnie comes out with veracity.
Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan had already achieved greatness with Fruitvale Station. It is a sublime achievement that these two have reached the pinnacle again with Creed. Audiences are going to absolutely love this film. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Oscar nominations for the cast and Coogler's direction. Sylvester Stallone is so good here. It's a joy to see Rocky Balboa on screen again in a different way. Get your turkey on for Thanksgiving, then race to the theater to see Creed.