When most people think of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), what automatically comes to mind is the image of a gutsy underdog who holds his own in the boxing ring against a variety of imposing adversaries. Each installment of the series has been about the buildup leading to a riveting championship bout between the underdog and a world champion.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is a spin-off that pays homage to that tried-and-true formula but also departs from the series’ successful formula. The change is that this film devotes attention to character development in addition to ratcheting up the tension leading to the showdown bout.
The picture reunites Coogler with Michael B. Jordan, who starred in his directorial debut, the critically acclaimed Frutivale Station. In Creed, Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, a juvenile delinquent who’s had several scrapes with the law because of his quick temper and a tendency to settle arguments with his powerful fists.
Just past the point of departure, the hot-headed Adonis is informed by Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) widow (Phylicia Rashad) that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s original opponent.
Fast-forward a few years, where we learn that Adonis has learned to channel his anger and explosive might by becoming a boxer. Over the objections of his adoptive mother (Mrs. Creed) he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He moves to Philadelphia to find Rocky who is now running a restaurant called Adrian’s. Adonis prevails upon the ex-champ to serve as his trainer. Rocky agrees on condition that he change his surname to Creed. Soon Adonis rises in the ranks to become the number 1 contender and lands a title fight with Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow).
In addition, Adonis falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring hip-hop artist who is on the verge of success. Away from the gym, he also spends time with Rocky, and even gives him some heartfelt advice that just might save his aging mentor’s life.
This engaging seventh episode can rightfully claim to be a highly recommended spin-off of the legendary series.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, and sensuality. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.