It’s seriously impressive how long the Rocky franchise has been able to sustain itself. What started as a single film about a lovable underdog has blossomed into a truly great American film series. The characters have continued to resonate with audiences for decades, which is one of the reasons why the idea of Creed was so exciting. Sylvester Stallone is only getting older and having another Rocky film with him in the ring would have probably been pretty ridiculous. But by having Rocky act as the trainer to Apollo Creed’s son, they’ve effectively passed the franchise off to an entirely new generation of film fans. For some younger viewers, this could very well be their first Rocky film, so it’s a good thing that Creed is a fantastic addition to the franchise. Just like Stallone in the original, Michael B. Jordan will make you want to stand up and cheer.

After the death of his mother, Adonis Johnson (Jordan) spent several years of his young life in and out of foster homes. But one day he’s introduced to Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. She informs Johnson that he’s the son of Creed and offers to take him in and raise him as her own. Seventeen years later, Johnson is living a cushy life with a comfortable job, thanks to his foster mother. He decides to abandon all of that and pursue his true passion of boxing. He moves to Philadelphia where he begins training with Rocky Balboa (Stallone). Johnson hopes that he can make a name for himself based on his ability alone, but he’ll soon discover that it’s tough to step out of his father’s shadow.

Director Ryan Coogler’s previous collaboration with Jordan was the soulful Fruitvale Station, which examined the final day in a young man’s life. Like that film, Creed also offers an outlook on life and proves itself as much more than a boxing movie. Johnson’s determination to make something of himself is really uplifting and things only become more interesting when the general public learns who his father is. Rocky also has a lot to deal with in this film, most notably choosing to continue living even after most of his loved ones have left him. The basic outline of the screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington is pretty formulaic stuff, but it’s these touching character moments that elevate the film above your typical boxing film.

But what really stands out here is the direction and the performances. Coogler does a great job handling the material and basically solidifies himself as one of the most important young filmmakers to keep your eyes on. There are really only two major fight scenes in the film, but each one is powerful in its own unique way. The first fight is between Johnson and another local fighter and Coogler shoots it in a continuous, uninterrupted take. The fight choreography must have been practiced to perfection to achieve this and it succeeds at making the viewer feel like they’re in the ring right beside Johnson. The final fight is also a sight to behold and it’s elevated by Jordan and Stallone’s fantastic performances. Stallone hasn’t been this great in years and he’s able to prove why we fell in love with this character in the first place.

Creed is the perfect mix of old and new; it’s a classic boxing tale told with a modern style and sensibilities. You’ve got the underdog, the training montages and even a heartwarming love story. Johnson is a great character and I’m glad that we got to see his story at the center of this film. This is the perfect way to continue on the franchise that Stallone started so many years ago. It might be predictable and a bit too formulaic, but it’s got a huge heart at the center of everything. Even casual fans of the Rocky franchise will find themselves tearing up at this truly inspiring film.

Creed receives 3.5/4

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