“Creed” so much more than just another boxing film

No one needs another “Rocky” film. How many sequels have there been? Seven? Eight? But director Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” is something different than the rather cheesy “Rocky” movies that preceded it. It is rooted in the real world, imbued with modern issues of desperation and cynicism, and it integrates elemental issues of regret, perseverance, dignity and acceptance. The result is a spectacular tour de force.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) serves as a mentor to young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his late friend and competitor, Apollo Creed. Adonis is full of fight and anger, desperate to prove himself without his father’s name, but at the same time, to show he’s worthy of his father’s greatness. Rocky has retreated from life. His wife is gone, his friends are gone, his mentor is gone. The years have taken a toll on him and he’s looking at the scope of his life without much hope. Perhaps taking in young Adonis will provide him with some purpose.

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are fantastic, displaying the full range of emotions associated with mentor and mentee. Rocky, seeing the fight in Adonis, tries to hone him towards a higher purpose and help him realize his potential, a surrogate father for a boy who has never had one. And Adonis in turn inspires Rocky to keep fighting for his own dignity. This give and take builds up to a beautiful climax in the boxing ring, as Rocky coaches Adonis towards fulfillment.

Bianca (Tessa Thompson) serves as Adonis’ girlfriend is a fluff role that serves no real purpose to the story. Similarly, Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow, is not given a lot to do. Compared to the powerful relationship between Rocky and Adonis, neither character has much to offer to the story.

In this age of reboots and endless sequels, most films rip off more than add on to the films that came before them. “Creed” manages to be both its own film and a continuation of the Rocky story, respecting the previous entries without exploiting them in a gimicky way. For example, while it might otherwise have been hokey to have Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” in a film like this, it works well, harkening back to the optimism of the original film in a world that could use some old-fashioned hope.

An identity discovery as much as a boxing movie, “Creed” follows Adonis on his journey towards finding the glory within himself as he and Rocky reach a meaningful conclusion, exemplifying love, commitment and pride. The last shot, epitomizing the past and the future, friend and mentor, exemplifies it all.

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