Like its title character, “Creed” is a new, unknown contender, seemingly dwarfed by the legacy of everything that came before it. The seventh chapter in the definitive boxing movie series, blasts its way right to the top with perhaps the franchise’s best instalment with phenomenal performances from both its newest and oldest stars, and some of the most meticulously coordinating boxing sequences in years!
Michael B. Jordan steps onto center stage as Adonis Johnson, an aspiring boxer who keeps his relation to the legendary Apollo Creed a secret from the world, save for the Italian Stallion himself, Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone. Phylicia Rashad portrays our hero’s mother, Mary Anne Creed, while Tessa Thompson plays his budding love interest, Bianca.
Tony Bellew handles the antagonistic role of World Light-Heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, who takes an interest in using the new contender as a means to boost his floundering boxing career.
Adonis “Donnie” Johnson holds one huge connection to the boxing world beyond his burning desire to box professionally – that he is the out-of-wedlock son of former World Heavyweight champ Apollo Creed.
Not wanting to have his famous father’s legacy dictate the course of his career, he keeps his lineage a secret from the world, only disclosing it to to his late father’s best friend and one of only two men to ever defeat him, Rocky Balboa, and after some persuading, the Italian Stallion agrees to train him.
However, once he steps into the ring, the truth about the up-and-coming champ can’t be kept hidden for long. Once Donnie’s connection to Apollo is revealed to the world, the current Light Heavyweight champ, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, offers Donnie a shot at the title on the condition that he adopt the name Creed for their fight.
We can all probably agree that the “Rocky” series has had its highs and lows, but anyone worried that “Creed” might fall into the latter category can let their guard mitts down.
Whether it’s more fitting to call it a sequel or a spin-off is largely irrelevant, since it manages to be both at once impeccably well. The film sets itself apart from the prior six instalments and truly makes it Donnie’s story in all the right ways – the opening title doesn’t scroll across the screen as many audience members probably expected it to, and the classic “Rocky” theme is almost completely absent from the film, only showing up once at a key moment that is all but impossible not to cheer at.
Rocky’s presence also doesn’t feel like he’s simply invited himself into Donnie’s movie, but genuinely feels organic and essential to the story. Sly gives perhaps his best performance in the series since the original; a man once on top of the world who’s at complete peace with his current place in life and faces his own fight parallel to Donnie’s after learning that he’s developed lymphatic cancer.
He doesn’t do much at all in the way of actual boxing this time around, but it feels appropriate in a passing of the torch saga such as this for Rocky to shift gear into the mentor role – while Michael B. Jordan really gets to show what he’s made of.
It’s always prudent to avoid engaging in hyperbole, especially when talking about something that carries the enduring legacy that the “Rocky” series has. Nevertheless, even by that yardstick, the fight sequences in “Creed” are truly some of the best boxing fight scenes in ages.
Under the direction of fight choreographer Clayton Barber, the boxing in the film actually improves on the fights of the series’ previous entries in a most unexpected way. While the boxing scenes throughout the “Rocky” series, and boxing movies in general, have generally been based around the endurance of the fighters, the fights in “Creed” place their emphasis on the methodology and technicality of boxing in a way not seen anywhere else in the franchise.
Donnie and his opponents bob and weave, deflect punches, counterattack, and trade blows, all in a way that feels not only perfectly coordinated but even scientific. All of these are graphically captured in Donnie’s first professional fight; a five-minute brawl filmed in a single, one-take shot, and it’s just about as close to flawless a boxing fight can get.
Of course, as Rocky himself has observed, hitting hard is only half of the equation – there’s also how hard you can get hit, and both Donnie and Pretty Ricky put each other to that test in a thoroughly brutal final battle that mirrors Rocky and Apollo’s first match decades earlier.
Most franchise revivals wish they were half as good as “Creed”. Sly and Michael B. Jordan each give the performance of a lifetime, while the film they’re in carefully balances continuing to tell Rocky’s story without actually being about him. On top of all that, the boxing sequences are some of the most technically exquisite and emotionally powerful you will ever see; if your audience is anything like mine, there’s going to be a LOT of cheering in the final fight!
- “Creed” was released in the U.S. on November 25th, 2015, forty years to the day from the opening scene of the original “Rocky”.
- Fight choreographer Clayton Barber has done stunt work on such films as “Bunraku”, “Black Dynamite”, “Blade”, “Blade II”, “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown”, and “Man of Steel”. He is also a nationally ranked Taekwondo competitor who has coached the U.S. team, and is the business partner of Stunt People co-founder Eric Jacobus.
- In the film, Rocky reveals the winner of the private match between himself and Apollo at the end of “Rocky III”.