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Creed Review

It has been a long time since Rocky was truly an underdog. Now a heavyweight franchise entering its seventh round, Rocky is rebooting like many other aging properties. Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa, is no longer the heavyweight champion; he is now the long-in-the-tooth trainer à la Burgess Meredith’s Mickey. Enter the illegitimate son of deceased champ and Rocky’s best pal Apollo Creed (played so memorably by Carl Weathers). Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan)—he uses his mother’s name—has a lucrative white-collar day job and fights at night in Tijuana. Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Adonis quits his job and travels to Philadelphia, where he convinces a lonely Rocky to train him.

Writer-director Ryan Coogler burst onto the scene with the excellent Fruitvale Station, which also featured his Creed star Jordan. Taking over franchise writing and directing duties from star Stallone, Coogler not only does the classic underdog-turned-champion justice; he gives the lonely icon a reason to live. Adrian and Pauley are dead; Mickey and Apollo are dead. Rocky’s son is gone. All he has is an empty house and memories until Adonis shows up.

Adonis’ origin story shares some of its most important plot points with that of the original Rocky. A sweet romance blooms with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who is losing her hearing. Our pugilist hero takes on an opponent, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), seemingly beyond his abilities. Despite such familiar narrative trappings, Coogler delivers the most emotionally satisfying Rocky since the underrated 1979 sequel. In Jordan, the series has found a star in the making who has more range than Stallone. He owns it all, even the pudgy middle melodrama where Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington trot out some amazingly stale dramatic chestnuts. Fortunately for Coogler, Jordan will convince you these plot developments are crucial to Johnson’s journey to his true identity as a Creed.

Nevertheless, the heart of Creed belongs to Stallone and his sweetly aging portrayal of cinema’s most beloved boxer. Take away Stallone, and Creed is simply an un-Sutter-ized version of Southpaw. Audiences know and love Rocky. His need for Creed makes us need Creed. And it is a wonderfully rousing viewing experience for it. Ludwig Göransson’s brilliant decision to incorporate Bill Conti’s soaring “Gonna Fly Now” only solidifies the audience’s connection with boxing’s new royalty. We may no longer exist in a time where Rocky would be a viable awards contender, but over the holiday season, Creed should please audiences. Creed draws so much inspiration from the 1976 original that parents are highly recommended to prepare their teens with an introduction to the Oscar winner, if not an outright marathon, for maximum effect.