The Hippo


May 25, 2020









Creed (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

The heretofore unknown (and possibly too old to box?) son of Apollo Creed seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him in Creed, the seventh movie in the Rockyverse.

Wikipedia places the fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago in 1985. We’re told in this movie that Adonis Johnson’s (Michael B. Jordan) father died before he was born. That makes him if not yet 30 at least in the neighborhood of 30, which feels a smidge on the old side to be looking to break into boxing. But, hey, this is a Rocky movie; why let the little details get in the way of your fun?
The movie actually starts with a young Adonis (Alex Henderson), who knows nothing about his father, in some kind of juvenile hall, locked away in juvy solitary for, of course, fighting. His mother, about whom we eventually learn very little other than that she was a woman with whom Apollo had an affair, has died and Adonis’ life has been mostly legal trouble and group homes. Then, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), Apollo’s widow, shows up to tell him all about Papa Creed.
Cut to years later when grown Adonis, who has come to call Mary Anne “Ma,” is gainfully employed in the white-collar world but spending his weekends fighting in matches in Mexico and his after-work hours shadowboxing while watching old footage of his dad (played in old footage by Carl Weathers) fight Rocky Balboa. A promotion at work seems to push him to make a definitive decision and Adonis quits and leaves Los Angeles and the comforts of Creed manor to move to Philadelphia and look for Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), who is where we left him in Rocky Balboa, working at his restaurant, Adrian’s.
Though Adonis, whose nickname is Donnie, is just regular joe Donnie Johnson to the guys at Mickey’s gym where he goes to train, he lets Rocky know who his dad was and generally Million Dollar Babys Rocky — showing up at the restaurant and calling him “Unc” — until he agrees to train him. Eventually, Donnie gets a fight with an acquaintance of Rocky’s, who soon figures out Donnie’s real identity. With a widely covered win under his belt and a big-time name, Donnie gets a chance to fight Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), a world-champion boxer from Liverpool who is looking for one last big fight to help pay the bills before he goes to jail for a few years on a weapons charge. Even though Ricky is taller, bigger and, a-hem, the World Champion, Donnie can’t resist this chance to make a name for himself and not just be known as “Baby Creed.”
That particular moniker irks Donnie so much that he actually ends up trading punches with the guy who called him that, even though this means he was slugging guys backstage at a show for Bianca (Tess Thompson). His downstairs neighbor, Bianca is a musician whom Donnie quickly falls for — his “yo, Adrian.” In addition to this very sweet romantic subplot, there’s a bit of business with the aging Rocky, who is really more of a supporting character in this “Rocky” movie, facing some health difficulties. 
Creed feels not so much like a sequel to or a reboot of the franchise as it does a revival. Rocky is the same Rocky and Creed was the same Creed, but with a son whose backstory is believably hard-luck enough to tap into some of that Rocky underdogness. Jordan — the star of the excellent Fruitvale Station from 2013 and this year’s less-than-excellent Fantastic Four — is exactly the right actor to play this next-generation character. He turns in an engaging performance, getting all the nuanced emotional stuff right, but has the physicality to make the boxing part realistic enough. His scenes with Thompson are almost shocking in how natural the chemistry between these two actors is — perhaps not always the dialogue but the tone, the way two people who are attracted to each other and start to fall in love relate to each other, feels spot on. Because Jordan makes Donnie a realistic guy, Thompson seems like a layered rounded girl and not just some add-on, one-dimensional girlfriend character. Because their relationship works, we get a little bit more of Donnie as a fully formed person, not just as a person looking to please an absent father. Because we care about this fully formed Donnie and his life, the Rocky part of the story feels organic, and not like some kind of cheat for franchise brand extension. 
Thus, the backstory, a backstory which is older than a good number of the people who will likely go to see Creed, doesn’t just feel gimmicky. OK, it’s a little gimmicky. But it’s also fun — there are nice moments of nostalgia, from the footage of Creed to the way the movie uses the Rocky theme song. But what makes the movie a successful rebirth of the Rocky saga is that the nostalgia isn’t the sum total of the reason to see this movie, it’s just a fun bit of icing on a very well-baked cake. B+
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. Directed by Ryan Coogler with a screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington, Creed is two hours and 13 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.

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