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Movie Review: Stallone Packs as Big a Punch as Ever in "Creed"


Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tess Thompson, Graham McTavish

Screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Rated PG-13 (profanity, boxing violence, adult themes)

It's easy to forget just how good the original 1976 Rocky was, and how good Sylvester Stallone was in it. While for our money the 2006 Rocky Balboa was a glorious return to form, earlier sequels (in particular the high-grossing Rocky IV) took the franchise in such a cartoony direction that the sheer emotional power of the original was forgotten. Considering that Rocky Balboa succeeded in ending the series with class and dignity, Stallone was taking a big risk by not only bringing the Italian Stallion back for one more round, but for the first time letting someone else write the screenplay. But Sly's trust in Ryan Coogler was well-placed. Creed is a big success.

The story is such a strong and obvious one that it's a wonder Stallone didn't come up with it himself: Rocky comes out of retirement to train the son of the late Apollo Creed,. What's surprising is that Stallone had the savvy and humility to let Creed the younger (actually named Adonis Johnson) take center stage, making Rocky Balboa a supporting character for the first time in seven films. It pays off wonderfully, allowing both actors to shine and to demonstrate first-rate chemistry with each other. But while Jordan demonstrates he's a talented and charismatic actor with real potential as a leading man, this is Stallone's show. Rocky has always been Stallone's best character, and he's never played the role better than he does here. At this age Rocky may still be a simple guy, but there's a great deal of wisdom and maturity in that simple package. Stallone imbues his signature role with so much sincerity and emotion that it's hard to not place harsh judgement on anyone who doesn't tear up at least a couple of times, especially in relation to film's biggest dramatic complication:


Are you still there? Okay.

Rocky's battle with cancer. Rocky's reaction to the news is a very powerful scene, but most of all the final scene, set in what Rocky calls his favorite place, ranks among the most emotional in the franchise's history. And consider its pop culture significance, it's even more than that.

The weakest aspect of the film is probably the romance between Adonis and a young musician named Bianca. (Tessa Thompson). It's not a bad romantic subplot, and it's likely younger audiences who are less familiar with the series will enjoy it more than we did. But while both Jordan and Thompson are likable and talented, during those scenes it was hard not to just want to get back to Adonis and Rocky.

Director Coogler not only handles the drama very well and seems to have a lot of talent for working with actors, he pulls off some impressive visuals. In particular Adonis' first on-screen fight, filmed in one continuous shot, is a triumph of staging and cinematography, and it's no mere gimmick. The long take adds a great deal to the feeling of being in the ring with Adonis without feeling distractingly flashy. While this summer's Southpaw, capably directed by Antoine Fuqua, left us feeling there was no new way left to shoot a boxing match, Coogler proved us wrong. The Fruitvale Station auteur proves himself to be a major talent, and one to watch for in the future. He and composer Ludwig Gorannson also know exactly when and where to use Bill Conti's iconic theme to maximum effect, which is no small part of making the film work as near-perfectly as it does.

Another supporting cast member who needs to be singled out is Graham McTavish as the trainer of Adonis' opponent, partly because he adds a wonderful sense of gritty naturalism, and partly because he's playing the lead in our upcoming feature film, the western Trail's End, which we think is awesome.

In the end, the best compliment that can be paid to Creed may be that it leaves us just hoping The Force Awakens will be as good a Star Wars movie as this is a Rocky movie. Coogler, Stallone and Jordan have succeeded marvelously at creating a major new chapter in a franchise that conventional wisdom says should have sputtered out long ago. But never count out Rocky Balboa. Creed sticks very close to the Rocky formula, but you don't go to a Rocky movie for surprises, you go to feel it. And Coogle, Jordan and especially Stallone make you feel it.

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