The Rocky franchise had six films total between the years 1976 and 2006. While it has been quite some time since I have seen the original film, I actually have never seen any of the sequels in their entirety. Before any more people become shocked by this, I have never been too fond of most sports dramas. However, there are several examples in the genre out there that are quite solid. Creed brings Rocky Balboa into modern day, but it isn't only about him anymore. Instead of simply being a remake or sequel, it acts more like a spin-off, which proves to be one of the film's greatest strengths.
Adonis Jackson (Michael B. Jordan) has always had the goal of becoming a legendary fighter. He travels to Philadelphia in order to meet up with former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in order to ask for his help in training. While initially hesitant, he decides to help the young fighter when he discovers that he's the son of former rival, Apollo Creed.
In most cases, Hollywood glorifies the sports that it decides to depict on the silver screen. Creed offers an intriguing perspective on boxing, especially within the first act. Apollo's death is heavily incorporated into the film's plot, but it never feels like a forced element being utilized in order to draw pity from the audience. Rather, it's used to establish the stakes. Those closest to Adonis aren't concerned about his success in the ring, but his survival. The risks being taken by being a professional fighter are especially highlighted throughout the first act. Writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington bring us back into a world that is familiar to the original Rocky, but also introduces us to a dimension that hasn't been entirely explored previously. It's not all about winning, as death is always a very real threat.
Despite a solid introduction, the second act is where a majority of the film's issues can be found. As expected, the screenplay takes the extremely formulaic route. Not only are the plot beats predictable, but it follows a safe set of rules that contradict some of the film's more unique elements found within the first act. The romance between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) feels forced, as I never felt a true connection between the two of them. Rather than it feeling like a part of the story, it feels like a "tacked on" sub-plot. Nevertheless, the dramatic moments created between Adonis and Rocky are especially impactful, as the interactions between the two characters feel particularly real.
Fortunately, once we're past the second act, the film begins to improve once again. The climax of the film still follows the formula that audiences have become accustomed to, although it does it in a way that's incredibly exciting and tense. Adonis is faced with his toughest foe yet, as he struggles to make his own legacy. He doesn't want to become successful based upon the name that his father established, as he now must train for the biggest fight of his life. All of the stakes established in the film's introduction truly pay off within the final twenty minutes, as Adonis places every ounce of energy, passion, and anger into his training and eventual boxing match. While it's littered with the typical cut-aways to family and friends telling the audience how to react, this remains to be a final act filled with plenty of nail-biting suspense.
A franchise that started from Rocky's perspective has shifted to that of Adonis, who is portrayed quite well by Michael B. Jordan. He's rather believable throughout, although Sylvester Stallone completely steals the spotlight. Of course, this is a very different approach to Rocky than other depictions, yet he handles it extremely well. The dramatic sequences are depicted in an incredibly nuanced fashion, and the moments of quick humor are also quite effective. There aren't any bad performances to be found here, although Stallone completely steals the stage here, and might just make his way into the nominations for Best Supporting Actor come awards season.
Writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington have some notable issues with the second act in their Rocky spin-off, but the first and third acts are quite good. The stakes established are appropriately determined, as the film gives us a bit more to chew on other than the journey to a hopeful victory. It's also a story about survival. However, it's a formulaic one that doesn't quite reach the emotional levels that it tries to achieve due to its predictable nature. Even so, Sylvester Stallone turns in a strong supporting performance that undeniably makes the film more than the typical sports drama. Creed is a solidly entertaining spin-off with more on its mind than expected. Recommended.