Time, you know, takes everybody out. It’s undefeated.
Creed is really something. It comes on the scene and rescues a franchise that’s been dead for years. And while people have decent things to say about some of the sequels, it’s a franchise that hasn’t turned out a genuinely great film since the first film, forty years ago. Creed isn’t just a great sequel; it’s not just worthy of being part of the franchise. It’s a film as good as the original Rocky film. Yeah, I said it.
I’ve been a fan of Coogler and Jordan since they collaborated on Fruitvale Station and this film is another home-run for the two of them. Coogler is an exciting director; he’s never overtly splashy or flamboyant, but when he gets a chance to seamlessly pull off something amazing, he does it. There’s a fight toward the middle of the film that’s performed in a single shot, a masterpiece of choreography, even going into multiple rounds without ever breaking. And in the climactic fight, there’s an astoundingly great montage. Michael B. Jordan is fantastic as the title character. Tessa Thompson is good as, well, okay, as fka twigs, right? But seriously, she’s wonderful in the film; I’ve been a fan of hers ever since she had the central role in Dear White People and really held the entire film together. It’s great to see her get a big role again, rather than just a small one, like the one she had in Selma. And Stallone? Damned if he isn’t as good as he’s ever been. The original Rocky and Cop Land have always been his two genuinely great performances and this one may just be better than both of those. He seamlessly recreates Rocky, in much the same way Harrison Ford stepped right back into the role of Han Solo in the new Star Wars; there’s never a doubt in your mind that this is the same dude from the first film. It gives his performance real dramatic weight and there are moments where the sadness of the character achieves a real poignancy. Stallone feels as right as he’s ever felt and there are some astonishing moments here. It’s so much more than a phoned-in performance or a Rocky imitation. It’s the real stuff.
I can’t help but compare the film to Southpaw, another film that recently tried to rehabilitate the boxing movie. Despite a compelling central performance from Gyllenhaal, that movie ultimately failed to really come alive. The climactic fights are really interesting as a comparison. The final fight in Creed is everything the final fight in Southpaw wasn’t. It genuinely feels like a trial for the character; it feels, in the way the fight did in the original Rocky, like so much more than just a sporting event. It is, as in all the great sports movies, both a metaphor for life and a genuinely compelling part of the main character’s journey. In Southpaw, the fight was an afterthought, tacked on after the character has gone through his emotional journey; in Creed, the character’s journey can’t be finished without the fight. It’s not just a story of a guy and then there’s a fight; the fight is an integral part of the story. In short (lol), Creed is really just a masterpiece, a tight piece of filmmaking with sharp writing, brilliant performances and a compelling job of directing, inspirational in a real and meaningful way, not in a cheesy or cheap way. They pulled it off; they made the movie they wanted to make, with all the pathos, power and emotion of the first Rocky. Talk about an under-dog story.
tl;dr – surprisingly great sequel is as good as the original Rocky; brilliant performances and sharp direction create a film that’s genuinely stirring and resonant, never corny or cheap. 4 stars.