Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone
4 (out of 5) Globes
“Creed,” the seventh film to feature Sylvester Stallone’s pugilist palooka Rocky Balboa, follows a struggling fighter. It has a fairly ludicrous big match between a mighty champ and a nobody. It has a training montage. It has a second-act health scare that could turn out fine (see: Adrian’s protracted coma in “Rocky II”) or not (see: the deaths in “Rocky III” and “Rocky IV”). It has a fight that could be read as a victory even if our hero doesn’t technically win (and doubly so if he does). In other words, it ticks all the boxes of what made the “Rocky” films “Rocky” films.
But there’s no Bill Conti score, no “Eye of the Tiger,” and certainly no Paulie’s robot from “Rocky IV.” It’s the first film with Rocky not written by Stallone himself, but by “Fruitvale Station”’s Ryan Coogler. And Rocky isn’t the hero. That’s Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis, the secret love child of Balboa’s deceased frenemy Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The film will follow him as he comes to Philadelphia with little to his name — and, speaking of which, not telling anyone he’s the son of the world’s most famous fighter.
But to say “Creed” doesn’t want to be another “Rocky” would be disingenuous. More accurately Coogler engages in a dialogue between delivering the franchise’s expected goods and lighting off in new territories. “Creed” is part of a new way of reviving beloved franchises. It’s being released a month before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which will relaunch a series that began the same time “Rocky” did. Both the first “Star Wars” and the first “Rocky” emerged at a time when audiences were looking for more uplift than they were getting from the grim, downer, paranoid dramas that had come to somewhat (though nowhere near totally) dominate Hollywood.
We’ve yet to see how “The Force Awakens” will handle meshing the old with the new, but “Creed,” at least, manages a neat trick: It’s not a slavish recreation nor even a straight-up reboot, but a film that thoughtfully, even movingly, engages with what revisiting this particular beloved franchise in 2015 means. It’s fan fiction but not fan service. When the usual franchise tropes are busted out they’re done in a way that’s filtered through a new voice. (It’s a relief, in a way, when its own training montage is nowhere in the vicinity of awesomeness as the older ones, especially those directed by Stallone.)