Another "Rocky" movie sounds about as appealing as, well, another "Rocky" movie. Here’s what does sound appealing: Ryan Coogler writing and directing another "Rocky" movie, this time starring Michael B. Jordan.
One of the most notorious Oscar snubs of recent years was the Academy overlooking Coogler and Jordan’s 2013 collaboration, "Fruitvale Station." Never mind being nominated -- I can argue they should’ve won, though dozens of other organizations showered Coogler and company with awards. In "Fruitvale Station," Coogler demonstrated his ability to turn a two-dimensional film into a realistic three-dimensional environment (no glasses needed, thank you), re-creating a tragic, real-life story, anchored by Jordan’s otherworldly, searing performance.
With "Creed," Coogler takes an existing mythology and lovingly turns it into something new and very real, while Jordan takes a character who could easily be seen as unsympathetic, and turns him into someone exceedingly relatable.
Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, a kid with money and connections who still spent time in juvy, fighting -- a lot. That is, until Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) comes along and offers Adonis a home. That’s because Adonis is the biological son of her late husband and his mistress, and Mary Anne is a freakin’ saint.
For those who don’t remember, Apollo Creed died fighting Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV." Twenty years later, though he’s landed what seems to be a nice job with a financial firm, Adonis has been spending time in Mexico, prizefighting. He’s undefeated and obsessed with boxing, and retreats to a room at night where he watches YouTube videos of his father fighting Rocky, which he projects on a wall. He knows every punch, and boxes along with the images.
Adonis quits his job and moves to Philly, hoping to find Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and convince the legendary fighter to train him. He moves into an old, bare-bones studio apartment that happens to be above the apartment of an up-and-coming singer named Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose soulful and nuanced performance enriches every moment she’s on screen.
On a practical, superficial level, Adonis has everything a person could want –- yet he needs something more. This young man wants to become a legitimate boxer, and through a stroke of luck will get a shot at the title. And his late father’s former nemesis-turned-friend is going to help him.
Creed isn’t complicated. It’s a simple story with just enough humanity sprinkled throughout to capture the hearts and minds of audiences who -- trust me when I say this -- will be cheering at the end of a movie that’s not nearly as predictable as you might think. You may love Stallone as Rambo, but Rambo’s the action star anti-hero. Rocky Balboa is Stallone’s heart and soul: the character that made him a star nearly 40 years ago, and still brings out his best.
Unlike the previous "Rocky" movies, however, Stallone wasn’t necessarily best suited to write this story. Instead, he chose Coogler, a filmmaker who’s still in touch with the struggle of becoming a professional filmmaker, and then some. That makes "Creed," the seventh "Rocky" movie, one of the best "Rocky" movies.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.