Almost everyone expected Creed to be another tiresome “Rocky” picture, a franchise that died a slow death ten years ago with Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI), when once again Sylvester Stallone dragged Burt Young and Tahlia Shire out of mothballs and engaged in one more “last fight.” Yawn.

If you thought that, you are in for a surprise. A combination of very good writing, some superb acting and that wonderful movie miracle, “chemistry”, Creed is, like its initial predecessor, very much in the discussion for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Young, relatively untested, director Ryan Coogler is as sure-handed in a big budget star-oriented historic franchise, as he was in the indie favorite, Sundance Film Festival award-winner Fruitvale Station a couple of years ago. Stallone is back of course and once again playing Rocky Balboa, but this time he’s a restaurant owner who is completely out of the fight game, since he lost his beloved Adrian. The star opposite Stallone is the excellent young actor Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights, Fruitvale Station), who plays the son of one of Rocky’s former opponents, Apollo Creed. The young Creed also wants to get into fighting, and comes to Rocky for training. Though Apollo died in the ring and was a good friend of Rocky’s when he died, Rocky is loathe to get back into the game in any capacity, but after he does, the movie takes the expected turn towards boxing and the question of whether or not Adonis will defeat the current champion in his weight class. Appropriate moral lessons about friendship, balancing life, etc. are learned and the viewer goes away with a new hero gained and an old one resurrected.

This story could have been maudlin to downright silly like several of the other Rocky movies, but the tight direction, great script (by Coogler with an assist from Aaron Covington and Stallone), and the great interaction between Stallone and Jordan make it one of the year’s most enjoyable movies. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed borrows heavily from the earlier Rocky movies to construct its plot. Like the young Balboa, Adonis has a girl friend who helps him learn how to live life outside the ring, and his enemy in the ring is clearly a baddy who looks much, much better than Adonis on paper, but is a machine-like product of the boxing industry, just waiting to be knocked off his pedestal.

Most of all, the scenes with just Stallone and Jordan make this movie work. Clear and simple without being pedantic or trite, their dialogue presents two lonely people, both fighters, both used to standing alone, struggling to find the relationship they will eventually find in this film, one that may be the best father-son portrayal since Cinderella Man (oddly enough another boxing movie). The interracial nature of this friendship adds another important element in our current social situation in America, and the movie treats this aspect of their friendship just as it should: without ever drawing attention to it, i.e. by simply assuming it.

Creed is not for everyone; the boxing is violent and the language what one might expect. But for most, the superb work of Coogler, Stallone and Jordan will provide a great two hours of entertainment.

Drew Trotter

December 15, 2015

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