Creed, rated PG-13
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 40 years since 69 year-old Sylvester Stallone first introduced us to Rocky Balboa in the 1976 film Rocky. This new film, the first in which Stallone has portrayed Rocky since 2006’s Rocky Balboa, is also the first that Rocky has not been the lead character or that Stallone had written the script. This film is directed by 29 year-old Ryan Coogler, who also directed 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station, one of my favorite films of that year. The star is Adonis Johnson/Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan, who also starred in Fruitvale Station.
Adonis, who goes by Donnie, is the son of boxer Apollo Creed, though he never met him. Apollo was killed in an exhibition match against Ivan Drago, a boxer from the Soviet Union, in 1985’s Rocky IV. Donnie was the product of an affair Apollo had when married to wife Mary Anne, played by Phylicia Rashad (best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show). We see Mary Anne visiting the troubled Adonis in juvenile hall and adopting him.
Later we see Adonis, successful in an office job while also secretly fighting in Mexico having won fifteen fights without a loss. Much to his adopted mother’s chagrin, he quits his job to go into boxing full-time, moves to Philadelphia, where he asks Rocky, who he calls “Unc”, to train him.
But Rocky is finished with boxing, living out his sad and lonely days running his restaurant named after his deceased wife Adrian. He is initially not interested in training Apollo’s son, even though he feels guilty for not having stopped the fight in which his father was killed. Eventually, after visiting Adrian’s (who had been played by Talia Shire) and Paulie’s (who had been played by Burt Young) graves, he does decide to come down to Mighty Mick’s Gym and begin training Donnie.
Tessa Thompson (from Dear White People) portrays Bianca, who lives in the same apartment building as Donnie. She is a talented musician with progressive hearing loss. After a slow start (Donnie comes to her apartment asking her to turn her loud music down), they begin a relationship that will have its ups and downs as they each pursue their careers.
Apollo Creed (who had been played by Carl Weathers) is an imposing presence in this film, even though he appears only in old boxing photos. Donnie is mad at his father, and doesn’t use his name (choosing instead to go by Johnson). He wants to make it on his own, and not be looked at as Apollo Creed’s son.
For Rocky fans, there are plenty of tips of the cap to movie moments and places (even Rocky’s turtle) that you will remember. The directing by Coogler, who also co-wrote the film with Aaron Covington, is excellent, as are the acting performances of Stallone and Jordan. Some are saying that Stallone could receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, boxing violence and one scene of sexuality. Nothing explicit is shown, but it’s obvious that Donnie and Bianca have spent the night together. At 132 minutes, the film dragged at times, and could easily have been edited down fifteen minutes.
I really enjoyed this film, with an older Rocky serving as a trainer and mentor to the up and coming Adonis Johnson/Creed; learning from the past yet choosing to live in the present and invest in Adonis’ future.