Underdog "Creed" scores a knockout
By John J. Raspanti, DogHouse Boxing (Nov 27, 2015)
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The cynicism was understandable.
The "Rocky" franchise had officially ended on a positive note in 2006 with "Rocky Balboa"--a film that surprised critics by returning to its roots on the gritty streets of Philadelphia.
Creator and star Sylvester Stallone gave the iconic character a great sendoff, by reminding the viewer’s why "Rocky" was so beloved.
Enter Ryan Coogler. The 29-year-old director had burst on the film scene with the critically-acclaimed drama “Fruitvale Station” two years ago. Coogler had an idea. He pitched it to MGM and Warner Brothers. Coogler and film school friend Aaron Covington penned the screenplay.
The studios were impressed, but Stallone himself had to be on board to seal the deal.
After several discussions, Stallone agreed to co-star in the film to be named "Creed".
The movie is more spinoff than sequel. It begins with a flashback. Adonis “Donnie” Johnson is a troubled kid bouncing from one juvenile detention to another. Though wayward, the kid can fight.
While being held after yet another scuffle, he receives a visit from the widow of former boxing champion, Apollo Creed, who tells the young man that he’s the illegitimate son of the former champ. Mary Creed arranges to adopt Adonis and bring him to live with her in Los Angeles.
Flash forward to the present where the adult Adonis, now called Donnie, is on the fast track in the financial world. He’s just received a promotion, but it’s obvious that he’s not happy. He’s been slipping off to Mexico to box in fights called “smokers.” (boxing matches held in dreary hole-in-the-wall locations)
He’s also been watching old films of his father’s matches. The sweet science is in his blood. He tells Mary that he wants to be a fighter, quits his job, and heads for Philadelphia in search of his identity.
Donnie (the superb Michael B. Jordan) tracks down Rocky Balboa (Stallone), his father’s former ring rival and closest friend. He introduces himself and asks Rocky to be his trainer. Rocky, the owner of a restaurant named after his late wife, Adrian, gently turns him down. Ignoring his refusal, Donnie wears his "Unc” down, eventually convincing the aging boxer to agree to be his trainer.
In their roles, Jordan and Stallone play off each perfectly. In this reviewer’s opinion, this is Stallone’s best performance since 1976 when he first introduced "Rocky" to the world. Jordan brings an intensity to his performance that never seems forced. The kid is the real deal.
Tessa Thompson shines as Donnie’s girlfriend, a singer suffering from progressive hearing loss.
Donnie aka Adonis steadily improves under Rocky tutelage, knocking out a rated light-heavyweight in a rousing fight. His break comes after his true identity as Adonis Creed's son is leaked to the press. Bad boy champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlon, played by professional fighter, Tony Bellow, is looking for an easy payday. Adonis Creed fills the bill.
Rocky sees much of his younger self in Donnie, who isn't ready to fight for a championship, but who is hungry to prove himself. A touching relationship develops between the two that is central to the power of the film.
Director Coogler does a splendid job of keeping the film grounded and real with up-close and personal camera work. The scenes were he follows Donnie into the ring (all in one shot) are excellent--providing the viewer with a feeling for what it would be like. The fight scenes are extremely well-done with Jordon looking quite believable as a fighter.
"Creed" is a powerful, feel-good film. Coogler has lifted the franchise from the canvas, and given it a fresh look.
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