Southpaw was the first boxing movie of the year, and while Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of a boxer from rags to riches to rags again was well done, the film has a lot of competition when compared to director Ryan Coogler’s Creed, a successor to the Rocky films starring Sylvester Stallone.
Creed pays proper homage to its predecessors, but miraculously makes a case of its own, standing on its own merits and relaying the question of legacies and rising above one’s own name and the history attached to it. Michael B. Jordan, whom we last saw in the atrocious and severely criticized Fantastic Four reboot earlier this year, is back to being an actor to watch for.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has been moved from group home to group home. He’s a troubled child who never knew his father, the famous Apollo Creed, who died before Adonis was born. After being taken in by his stepmother, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) Creed, Adonis grows up living a good life, but soon realizes that typing away at a computer at a financial company is not for him.
Secretly, he’s been boxing for years and wants to go pro. Packing up and moving from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, Adonis convinces famed boxer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him under the name Johnson and not Creed. But can he ever step out from behind the shadows of his father’s legacy and make a name for himself?
Ryan Coogler’s (Fruitvale Station) film isn’t quite a sequel but complements the Rocky films nicely. He takes what made those films memorable and mixes it in with a new take on a modern tale. The theme of the film, making your own name and legacy, is there the entire time but is never so blatant, which is Coogler choosing not to insult the audience’s intelligence by refraining from hitting you over the head with the film’s point. The training montages are really well done, and by the time Michael B. Jordan is jogging down the streets of Philly, pumping his fists in the air, you want to be right along with him doing the same.
Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as Rocky and it’s easily the best film he’s been in the last few years. He steps right back into the ring, but as an older, tired, and retired version of his character. He and Jordan have an easy onscreen chemistry and Stallone serves as a great father-figure to Jordan’s character. Similarly, Michael B. Jordan, who is a powerfully subtle actor, really breathes life into his role as Adonis, a man plagued by a slightly rough past but has something to prove in the wake of his father’s legacy.
His performance is layered with emotion and honesty, powered by his passion for boxing and his future. Tessa Thompson, as musician Bianca, equally rises to the occasion, but as a supporting character to the film’s lead actors. Yes, she is the supporting female to Jordan’s big dreams, but she has her own thing going on, her ambitions to make music and to perform echo throughout. She has no tolerance for bullshit and although Thompson’s role is smaller, she is clearly not forgettable.
Creed is not just about boxing or the character of Rocky, but about building new relationships and how a name with a legacy can make you or break you, making it difficult to branch out on your own. Coogler, along with co-writer Aaron Covington, allow the characters to shape the outcome of the story and it’s that emotional core and character development that render this film more than merely a boxing movie. Rooting for the underdog has never looked better and fans of the Rocky films can rest assured that the film doesn’t disappoint.