At the movies: No rocky moment in Rocky’s return
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Directed By Ryan Coogler
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew
Rated PG-13, Drama, 132 minutes
I was surprised by the gentle, congenial temperament of “Creed,” because it’s a film reinvigorating the “Rocky” franchise. Begun in 1976, that first movie announced author-star, Sylvester Stallone’s unique voice, winning him the Oscar for best picture (remarkably besting “All the President’s Men,” and “Taxi Driver”). It begat five more “Rocky’s” that delivered and took their punches.
“Creed” is neither written nor led by Sly, who gracefully steps out of the ring and into the role of mentor. The young man he trains is the illegitimate issue of Rocky’s greatest opponent Apollo Creed (played in earlier Rocky movies by Carl Weathers). Becoming Rocky’s close friend, Apollo died soon after.
Eventually adopted by his father’s widow Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), Adonis intends to make his own mark on the boxing world. He hides his pedigree, using the surname Johnson (his mother’s maiden name).
Seeking guidance and training, Adonis leaves his college degree behind along with an up-and-coming corporate career, and the opulent lifestyle available to him in Los Angeles. Pounding the mean streets of East Coast boxing, Adonis is portrayed by Michael B. Jordan as a soft-faced, slice of beefcake with (what else) a heart of gold.
His determination and fine character eventually win over a reluctant Rocky, now the owner of a Philly restaurant, named “Adrian’s” for his one and only love. Adonis also finds time to woo his pretty neighbor, a charming musician named Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
Although gifted with brains and charisma in addition to brawn, Adonis, affectionately known as Donnie, is irrevocably drawn to the ring by his drive and innate ability. Self taught while winning 15 unsanctioned Tijuana bouts, with Balboa’s help, he beats a light-heavy-weight contender, bringing Donnie’s record to 16 and 0. Adonis’s success also exposes his true lineage, beginning his journey of self-acceptance. Once the truth about his parentage is out, Adonis is invited to fight ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), Britain’s world champ.
Now required to use his father’s name Creed, Adonis is a made-to-order underdog, a legacy sure to draw an audience eager to watch him get pummeled. Although Rocky dreads this probable outcome, he knows from personal experience what it means to take that leap of faith, so he goes along when talented, but inexperienced Adonis, jumps at the challenge.
Rocky has become a surrogate father to Adonis when he is diagnosed with a serious illness and finds himself locked in two pitched battles as he readies his fighter for the title bout.
It’s commendable that director-cowriter Ryan Coogler, juggles this circus with minimal audience manipulation, and while making each development feel organic to the plot and characters.
The film certainly polishes Michael B. Jordan’s rising star, though Stallone outshines him by making a pact with the material to fully embody first the melancholy Balboa, then the re-engerized pugilist whose love for boxing refuses to die. Those of us who loved his first “Rocky,” movie, and now this “Creed” spin-off, have the pleasure of knowing how he feels.