Entertainment

‘Creed’ will make you a believer

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in “Creed.”
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” Warner Bros. Pictures

What It’s About

Enormously entertaining, “Creed” packs quite a punch and is the best movie in the “Rocky” lineage since the original.

Unabashedly sentimental in a good way, this gripping, fresh work pays homage to the iconic hero’s cinematic legacy while creating its own film. The result is a rip-roaring, rousing crowd-pleaser with quality production values.

The goodwill and affection for the franchise was evident at the pre-release screening. I haven’t heard an audience applauding during a movie like that in a long time. Those, who like me have a great fondness for the first one (I confess to tearing up every time I watch, when Rocky makes it up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum), were totally invested. I laughed, cheered, choked up, gasped and got misty-eyed numerous times.

In 1976, “Rocky” struck a chord in a post-Watergate country reeling from political turmoil. We craved a hero and embraced this classic underdog story written by Sylvester Stallone, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, beating “All the President’s Men” and “Taxi Driver.’

After five sequels, the last, “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, satisfactorily ended the saga. But wunderkind director Ryan Coogler had another idea. And he sold both Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, the charismatic star of his much lauded “Fruitvale Station,” on a tale of loss, redemption and heritage. The result is a dynamic pairing, as mentor and surrogate son, that will tug on your heartstrings. Their relationship is the heart of the film.

Coogler, with co-screenwriter Aaron Covington, created a hungry fighter with something to prove in Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, former World Heavyweight champion who died in the ring. His mom died a few years later. Called “Donnie,” he is rescued from juvenile detention center and more foster homes by Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).

Working in financial planning, on weekends he racks up a 15-0 record in Tijuana black-market fights, Donnie decides he needs better training if he wants to pursue his passion, and seeks out the Italian Stallion (Stallone), the former champ now retired and running Adrian’s Restaurant in Philadelphia.

The opportunity to challenge a famous fighter, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, spurs intense workouts and desire for Donnie to stand on his own.

Performances

Don’t be surprised if Stallone is in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor. He hasn’t been this good in years. As the character who fits him like a glove, the 69-year-old plumbs emotional depths. He’s comfortable as this lovable lug, but this time, he’s subtler and more vulnerable, while providing streetwise, hard-fought wisdom. He can sure deliver a zinger.

Jordan, with an impressive chiseled body, is up to the physical demands, and the emotional expression needed, too. You root for this kid the whole time.

Tessa Thompson, a standout in “Dear White People,” plays Bianca, Donnie’s love interest, and the romance is the weakest subplot, but she is a feisty presence.

Phylicia Rashad is a nurturing guardian and has an elegant presence in her few scenes.

What Works

Coogler demonstrates why a good director can make all the difference. His choices have a noticeable energy, and he brings a keen eye to the story. Using key locations in Philly is a visual “Easter egg” that emphasizes the backstory, too.

Cinematographer Maryse Alberti does outstanding work, notably a single take for the first fight and the soaring grand finale.

The dramatic musical score is terrific, borrowing from Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” and memorable composition, as well as modern touches.

“Creed” is an enthralling journey, with exhilarating boxing scenes and a story that connects us emotionally. Forgive the cliches and enjoy a good communal experience at the cinema.

‘Creed’

  • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, and Tony Belew
  • DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
  • DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
  • Rated PG-13 (violence, language and some sensuality)
  • 133 minutes
  Comments