The “Rocky” saga, just like its main character has gone through its peaks and valleys. Our fascination with the soft hearted and naive lug with a mean right cross has captured generations. The last we encountered Rocky, he was coping with Adrian’s passing, starting a restaurant business, and celebrating his swan song in the boxing ring. In 2015, does this saga and it’s namesake have anymore stories left to tell?Director, Ryan Coogler has brought to the big screen a passion project that can only be described as a love letter to and a natural progression of the “Rocky” franchise. “Creed” is a “Rocky” movie seen through the eyes of an angry and strong headed man, Adonis Johnson. He also happens to be the son of world famous boxing icon, Apollo Creed. Adonis never knew his famous father and has been in an out of foster care until being adopted by Mary Anne Creed (Apollo’s Widow) giving Adonis a home, a family structure and a future. Adonis has had to fight his whole young life and that has continued into adulthood where it took the form of Adonis boxing in Mexico to appease his need to step out of and keep one foot in his father’s shadow. Adonis’s itch to box has taken a toll on both his professional and personal life because he’s determined to make a career out being a fighter. He sets off to achieve his dream and seeks the tutelage of his father’s best friend and greatest opponent.

“Creed” is an absolute knockout. Michael B. Jordan’s performance and journey as Adonis Johnson is spectacular.

It’s both subtle and unafraid to confront the demons Adonis is trying to exorcise. He straddles the line of someone haunted by his past and reconciling his inevitable future claiming the Creed legacy. Most of all both Jordan and the character he plays are quite likable. Jordan’s on screen co-star, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa is a revelation. This is his best performance in years. He tears at your heartstrings with a riveting portrayal as a vulnerable Rocky coping with his life alone without family. His chemistry with Jordan and their relationship as friends, trainer/ boxer and father/ son figures is truly inspired and what holds the film together. These two performances ascend “Creed” into instant classic. Director Ryan Coogler has a love for the material and it shows. He also co-wrote the screenplay along with Aaron Covington. “Creed” carves out it’s place in the “Rocky” lore, but also paves a new direction without bastardizing what millions have grown to adore about the series. Ryan Coogler, the director has an eye for the boxing action as well with two spectacular fight sequences. The first fight sequence was an amazing and inventive over the shoulder perspective that puts you in the boxing ring. You feel every punch and every clinch. It’s raw, gritty and certainly memorable.

The climax fight was shot in a more traditional fashion, but no less exciting. It’s as if you are sitting ringside being splashed with sweat and watching each blood drop hit the canvas. One of the most enjoyable aspects of these two scenes is the aural experience. While you hear the roar of the crowd on your left and your right, you hear the thud of gloves against head and body in front of you while Rocky is yelling instructions at Adonis behind you. Lastly, when you hear that familiar “Rocky” score swell you won’t be able to hold back the emotion. You’ll be watching the epic match behind a waterfall of tears. It’s better than I can describe here and quite the highlight.Another aspect of the film that was enjoyable were the supporting performances and the subplots that develop for each. Tessa Thompson as Adonis’s love interest and strong, fervent supporter, Bianca was a wonderful compliment to Jordan. Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed was just the touch of parental endearment needed. Richtie Coster as Pete, the head trainer of “Mighty Mick’s Gym” has just the right amount trustworthiness to question his allegiance to Rocky. Finally, professional boxer Tony Bellew as “Pretty” Ricky Conlan is the champ you love to hate and can’t wait to see him go toe to toe with Adonis in the ring.

“Creed” works because all its parts complement the whole. The story is incredibly riveting and keeps you engaged even if you can see where our characters are headed.

You can criticize it for the formulaic story turns and training montages, and characters that seem to appear than disappear without a trace, but that would be missing the point. This is still underneath it’s glossy new exterior a “Rocky” movie through and through. It’s an effective and emotionally affecting film. You will certainly need to have a few tissues to accompany you to the theatre.
You must not, nor should you miss this spectacular cinematic triumph. I would not be surprised if an Oscar nomination is in this film’s future for it’s two main stars and it’s director. Just to sum up this review more succinctly. “Creed” without reservation or equivocation is one of the best pictures of 2015 and should not be missed.

“Creed” without reservation or equivocation is one of the best pictures of 2015 and should not be missed.

4 1/2 Stars Out of 5

originally published in MAUIWatch