Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born. Fighting is in his blood and Donnie tracks down his father’s former rival turned friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to ask him to train him.
While Creed is a sequel/part of the Rocky franchise, it’s definitely the kind of clever “reboot” where you can watch it without knowing anything of the previous films. That certainly what I did the first time I watched it and I loved it then, just as I loved it this time. I won’t lie though, there is something nice to see the references and call backs to the previous films in this one and there’s the odd scene that has maybe a bit more emotional weight knowing what came before it decades ago.
The other smart thing Creed does is how it balances the legacy of this franchise with what Donnie as a character is going through. Donnie wants to carve out his own name for himself and not just get things handed to him because of his family name, but as things progress he comes to a realisation that he can be his own man but that doesn’t change the fact of who his father is. He can embrace the name “Creed” without living in his father’s shadow. The film itself goes a similar route and while it is no doubt an excellent film on its own, embracing what came before it just adds something extra special to Creed.
There are still fights in Creed but it’s really the characters and their everyday relationship drama which is the focus of this film. That’s not to say they skimp on the fights, when they’re there, they’re exciting and well shot. The fight about midway through the film is a standout as while I’m sure there’s the computer trickery putting in the edits where needed, it looks like the whole fight, including when each boxer is in their corner in between each round, is all in one take. It really immerses you in the action and I have no clue how they got the cuts to appear on each fighter’s face without you seeing the makeup artists.
Michael B. Jordan is excellent in Creed and conveys that emotional turmoil of trying to find a place to belong and a family without just living off your famous relatives’ names. The family he builds is Rocky, who he starts calling “Unc” pretty much as soon as they met much to Rocky’s bemusement, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his musician girlfriend, and his adoptive mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). I kind of loved what Creed says about family because here’s Rocky that’s lost his wife and best friend/brother-in-law and his own son lives in another country, so while he doesn’t have any close blood family either, with Donnie’s help he also gets a second chance at a different kind of family.
Stallone is just jaw-droppingly good in Creed and his Rocky is just tired and almost willing to give up on life until Donnie comes along. Their relationship is at the core of this film and they both push at each other to keep fighting.
Everything about Creed is so well done which shouldn’t be a surprise now with hindsight as director and co-writer Ryan Coogler repeatedly surrounds himself with excellent artists and collaborators. Composer Ludwig Göransson’s score has its own vibe to it but when it incorporates the Rocky theme it does so at just the right moment.
In the era of reboots/legacy sequels Creed is far better than probably anyone was expecting. It does exactly what it set out to do, pay homage to great characters like Rocky and Apollo while forging a new character in Donnie that can stand on their own two feet. Creed blends emotion, drama, and high stakes fights brilliant and overall, it is an excellent film, whether you’ve seen the Rocky films or not. 5/5.