Backed by the thunderous roar of the motorbikes that follow him, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) runs through the streets of Philadelphia like a man possessed. He is in the midst of training for a fight in which the odds are stacked against him in more ways than one. However, in this moment, with his back to the audience and his head covered by a hoodie, Johnson and the viewer become one. It is here where director Ryan Coogler’s camera, lingering on the faceless athlete, hits the film’s point home. Anyone could be under that hoodie, their name, sex, or race does not matter, just the drive that is within.
As if shedding the shackles of the Rocky films that came before it, while still finding inspiration from the franchise, Coogler’s Creed is one of those rare reboots that is actually a welcome addition to the cinematic landscape. In fact, it is one of the most surprising and important films to be released this year.
Coogler has shown with his previous film, Fruitvale Station, that he can tap into the mindset of this generation like no other director. He does so again with Creed. Not only does he craft an inspirational and thrilling tale, but also creates a modern cinematic hero that young people, especially young black teens, can get behind. Adonis Johnson is smart, strong, and has a never say die spirit. By all accounts he is the epitome of success, or at least he would be if he was not so consumed by the shadows of the past.
The illegitimate son of famed boxer Apollo Creed, Johnson spent his early years bouncing around from foster home to foster home before being taken in by his late father’s wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Despite getting an education and landing a quality job, Johnson cannot shake the desire to fight which has been in him since his youth. Frequently traveling to Mexico to box on the illegal circuit, Johnson decides to quit his job to pursue his passion full-time. However, after the trainers at his father’s gym refuses to train him, Johnson has no choice but to head to Philadelphia in hopes of making it on his own name and not his father’s legacy.
Seeking the help from legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his father’s friend and greatest opponent, Johnson must learn how to throw away the baggage that has weighed him down for years if he hopes to be a successful boxer. Though this becomes difficult when a British promoter, Tommy Holliday, gets word that Apollo Creed’s son is boxing and sees it as an opportunity to give his fighter, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), on last big payday. As Johnson attempts to navigate his way through the life of a boxer, he must also deal with his feelings for his neighbour Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and the illness that threatens to take Rocky’s life. These things pale in comparison though to the biggest challenge he must overcome…himself.
Similar to many of the great boxing movies that came before it, including the original Rocky, Creed understands that the actual boxing is the least important aspect. While Coogler provides an exciting vibrancy to the boxing sequences – the freeze fame statistics for the four premier boxers that Johnson comes across is also a nice touch – it is the human drama that allows the film to resonate with audiences. Though not the typical underdog tale, as Johnson is coming from a more stable upbringing than the boxers he fights, the film still carries that same universal appeal of its iconic counterparts in the genre. Regardless of whether one has taken the easy path or the more difficult road, the message remains the same. Society does not owe anyone anything; it is up to the individual to work at perfecting what they love to do the most.
It may be a simply point, but one that many, especially the young and jaded, tend to forget.
Giving yet another knockout performance, Michael B. Jordan displays why he is one of the most fascinating young actors working today. As Johnson, he carries the ferocity of a lion and the emotional honesty of a cub. Through his intricate performance he ensures that Johnson not only steps out of his father’s shadow, but that of the Rocky films as well. Just as millions of young Italians found hope through the Rocky character, it is easy to see a generation of young black teens finding both inspiration and a hero in Adonis.
It should also be noted that Sylvester Stallone is wonderful in the supporting role here. He gives his best performance in decades. Despite playing this character multiple times before, Stallone manages to bring Rocky back to the emotional core that made audience fall in love with the character close to 40 years ago.
Creed not only establishes Adonis Johnson as a welcome addition to the cinematic landscape, but also effectively creates a hero that the youth of today can rally behind. He is a reminder that life is not about who wins the match, but rather proving to ourselves we have it takes to step into in the ring.