dir. Ryan Coogler
written by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
starring: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
3.5 out of 4 stars
Confession time: I have never seen a movie from the Rocky franchise, even the Best Picture winning original. Boxing movies are very hit or miss for me, and learning that it beat out the likes of Taxi Driver and Network, two of my favorite movies from the seventies, I held a grudge against the movie up until now, completely disinterested in watching Stallone run up those steps and shadowbox. Here comes Ryan Coogler, the director of Fruitvale Station, to change my view of the franchise with his reboot Creed. Together again with Fruitvale frontman Michael B Jordan, we continue to theme of strong reboots this year.
Michael B Jordan, gracefully redeeming himself as a leading man in a physically intense movie after the Fantastic Four debacle, is a powerhouse performer as Adonis Johnson, son of Rocky II opponent Apollo Creed. How Matt Damon was adored for being funny and performing a strong Matt Damon in space performance, MBJ should be adored for pulling massive overhaul in his physical commitment and nuanced, tender, impactful delivery. Completely engrossing in every scene he’s in, and except some weightier asides from Stallone, more on his excellence soon, that is the entire movie.
The man responsible for Rocky’s original script and iconic character is Rocky Balboa once again. Sylvester Stallone, 39 years on, has heart, a crack sense of humor and a likability that rises above his grumbles. This tough guy has a tender heart. Pulling off scenes regarding aging, particularly visiting his deceased wife and friend at their burial plot, Stallone proves he has the emotional heft to place behind his macho iconography, right next to that Oscar he’s about to win.
The women in Adonis’s life, lover Bianca and mother Mary Ann, played by the always pleasing Tessa Thompson and the forever wonderful Phylicia Rashad, respectively. Thompson brings the same confidence and easy emotional delivery from Dear White People and showcases her talents for the wider audience. A rising musician in Philadelphia, Bianca is a woman with goals of her own, and this petite marvel possesses the might to counter the intensity of MBJ’s Adonis. Rashad, in a too short role, is ravishing after all this time. A mother who has committed her life to success and well-being of a boy she took in as a troubled youth, she feels every moment of his confusion and her frustrations, letting the pride set low as her concern flies high. Mrs Huxtable still has the chops to be a tiger mom; now we just need more casting directors to hire her!
Coogler, showcasing his wide skill set, proves handy with action, providing heart to a franchise filled with Eye of the Tiger intensity, and with his recently annouced Black Panther Marvel venture, I anticipate continued strong filmmaking from this director. Producing varied, action packed boxing scenes we haven’t already seen a thousand times is accomplishment enough, adding the strength of cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler and Velvet Goldmine clearly showcase his talent with movement) and editors Claudia Castello and Michael P Shawver, the team behind cutting the equally intense Fruitvale Station. Elevating the movie above popcorn status into edge of your seat exploration of kinship, purpose, commitment, and ego. Jordan and Stallone highlight the ensemble of fantastic performers to make this one of the most entertaining movies of late 2015. Anticipating a sequel, I see great promise in the continuation of the Rocky-world’s heritage.