Creed Review: A Cheer-Worthy Return to the Ring

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In a year where Hollywood has brought a number of its staple franchises back from the dead, Creed stands tall as it knocks you out. Director Ryan Coogler, coming off the critical success of Fruitvale Station, has delivered a film that captures everything great about the old Rocky movies while finding fresh ground to cover for the almost four decade long franchise.

The setup is simple: Donnie Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s first on-screen opponent, is a fighter working a boring office job. He sees his father’s legacy as both a gift and a curse. Donnie doesn’t want to be the next big thing in boxing because of who his father is. Yet he looks to none other than Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to be his trainer.

Make no mistake, Creed is Rocky VII, which is, surprisingly, its greatest strength. This film flawlessly recreates the feel of the 1976 original. From the big, cheesy score to rigorous training montages all over a beautifully shot Philadelphia, you will know you’re watching a Rocky movie.

The film is even best when the legend himself is on screen. Reluctant at first to help Donnie, Rocky sees the same fire in this up-and-comer as he felt himself all those years ago. Stallone hasn’t been this good in a movie since Rocky. The veteran actor weaves a father, a modest celebrity, a widower, and a warrior into this seventh iteration of the character. On sheer legacy alone, having him in Donnie’s corner giving him advice is a massive emotional reward for longtime fans.

But it’d all come crumbling down if Michael B. Jordan wasn’t up to the task. After proving himself as a leading man on the indie scene with Fruitvale Station, Jordan has stumbled with his bigger films, most notably this summer’s atrocious Fantastic Four. Finally, Creed turns this talented young star into the crowd-pleasing hero he’s deserved to be since his award-worthy role in the later seasons of NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Balancing naive ambition with thoughtful progression, Jordan makes Donnie an instantly lovable protagonist.

Creed isn’t perfect though. Donnie’s love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is a little underdeveloped. Sometimes the cheese factor gets a little too heavy. But still, this is a hugely successful franchise revival that deserves to be in the same conversation as Mad Max: Fury Road. Like that film, Creed takes the old franchise formula and injects it with the energy it needs to work in 2015. You’re up, Star WarsGrade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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