The best sequels consist of two things: You never asked for them, and they don’t feel like a sequel in the slightest.
You can call “Creed,” the latest instalment of the eternal “Rocky” franchise, whatever you want. It’s a sequel; it’s a spinoff; it’s a reboot. It’s also undeniably one of the most masterful blockbusters of the year.
The “Rocky” universe is a small place, mostly set in Philadelphia with the occasional trip to Siberia. “Creed” adds a lot of new characters within a mostly familiar setting. Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of the late Apollo Creed, the legendary boxer who took on Rocky Balboa several times in the previous films.
Adonis never met his father, but takes after him in many ways. Adonis lives a pampered Los Angeles lifestyle and is about to get a big promotion, but he has the instinct to fight — which, in the end, is what wins out. He abandons all his possessions and moves to Philadelphia where he asks Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him.
For die-hard movie fans, “Creed” is full of payoffs (and training montages). It plays predictability perfectly to its favour. It also succeeds at the smart self-awareness that “Jurassic World” attempted this past summer.
In “Creed,” characters grapple with the idea of legacy and trying to create something new when people expect something old from you. This is the story of a man who denies his lineage so much that he won’t even go by his real last name.
“Creed” clearly wants to take the 39-year-old franchise in a new direction.
It is the first film not written by Stallone and also not containing the word “Rocky” in the title. Yet it’s a paradise of references. It lingers on one shot of a turtle, and then another of eggs, but they come with a wink. The beauty of “Creed” is that you can walk into it with little knowledge of the Italian Stallion and still leave with tears in your eyes.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler gives “Creed” the fresh pair of eyes it needed. This is only Coogler’s second feature following “Fruitvale Station.”
Unlike many other young directors, Coogler doesn’t surrender control in the leap from indie to a studio feature. In fact, he has the confidence of a pro. The scenes out on the street and in the gym are shot with grit, but the film contains so much humour and humanity. Meanwhile, all of the boxing scenes are shot like an HBO fight. If this is a re-launch of an Adonis Creed-led franchise (and I believe it will be), then Coogler has flawlessly given it a voice.
“Creed” grapples with its legacy and predecessors in such a fascinating way. Adonis only knows his father through YouTube clips of his fights with Rocky. This might also be the way that a lot of people are familiar with the original films. The references aren’t just there for cheap nostalgia; they show how “Rocky” has become part of the cultural consciousness. In “Creed,” Balboa’s best days are now folklore. The original “Rocky” feels that way, too. “Creed” is here to prove that the movies can still bring force (pun intended).
Stallone gives a heartfelt and passionate performance as a man trying to make the best of his circumstances. Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan gives the second-generation Creed so many layers. He is tough yet vulnerable enough to show how hurt he is deep down.
“Creed” is a perfect sequel because it doesn’t feel like one. Between the training montages and the return of some very well-known music, “Creed” is great for “Rocky” fans. But it’s even better for people who are about to become “Rocky” fans.
“Creed” is in theatres on November 25.
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