The original Rocky debuted in 1976, winning three Academy Awards and making Sylvester Stallone a bona fide star. There have been several incarnations in nearly 40 years, some good and some forgettable, but the greatest character to come out of the Rocky franchise, outside of Mr. Balboa, is Apollo Creed. Inspired by Muhammad Ali, Apollo (played by Carl Weathers Jr.) was Rocky's toughest opponent who eventually became his friend. Apollo Creed dies in the ring in 1985's Rocky IV.
Creed kicks off decades later, when Apollo's secret son Adonis, played by Michael B. Jordan, discovers he inherited the gift of fighting and begs to be trained by a retired Balboa. The former fighter eventually agrees and, if you've seen any other of the Rocky films, you can predict what happens next.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is the director's first film since 2013's Fruitvale Station. The two films have zero similarities, showing his range as a filmmaker. Creed is no masterpiece, but it's not meant to be and many forget the beating the Rocky franchise has taken by critics for nearly four decades. But Stallone clearly trusted Coogler with his cinematic first born and the Oakland native did the job for his audience. The director has an interesting and eclectic career ahead.
The 28-year-old Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed is no Stallone at 28. His performance is solid but Jordan struggles with the emotional depth that made the Italian Stallion and Apollo shine. Apollo Creed owned an over the top bravado, but Adonis, Apollo's son, lacks the fire (side note: noticeably absent is a Carl Weathers cameo; yes, the character is dead but we needed some representation of the original!). His biggest struggle is being perceived as a rich kid who only made it to the ring because of his father's name (Phylicia Rashad plays his adoptive mother and the widow of Apollo).
Also, there is a random subplot in which Adonis attempts to love a singer-songwriter with a hearing issue, played by Tessa Thompson, who was channeling vintage Lisa Bonet in every scene. But the most awkward moment was an attempt to create a memorable training scene like Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Adonis follows a group of bikers as he runs through Philly's blocks, ending up at Rocky's window with cheers. The scene never lands.
Although the film is about Apollo Creed's son, Adonis, Stallone steals every scene, giving the film its heart. The 69-year-old has been chopped up for years for his acting skills, but he sustained an epic movie career for longer than many people who will see Creed have been alive. Furthermore, it's fascinating to see Stallone hand over his franchise to a Black director and Black lead, especially in an era where films are consistently whitewashed, there are complaints about "too much" diversity and movie studios still refuse to accept the buying power of African-American audiences. Overall, Creed is a good addition to Stallone's legacy.
Creed is in theaters now. Watch MBJ get Punk'd by his own BFF below:
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(Photo: Warner Bros.)