Review: Creed tackles harsh realities of boxing

Donnovan Bennett hooks up with Creed stars Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and director Ryan Coogler to discuss the making of the movie.

Running Time: 2:13
Rating: PG 13
Genre: Drama, Sport
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Distributor: Warner Bros. Canada

What is Creed? A continuation of the Rocky franchise? A spinoff? A boxing movie? A romantic film? A commentary on the inherent dangers combat sports present? The correct answer is probably a combination of all of the above.

That’s because Creed has the unenviable task of having to cast a wide net. It comes with a set of expectations for its loyal fan base that have kept the Rocky franchise alive over the last four decades. Yet it has to be sensitive to how the culture has changed throughout that time when trying to entice a unique audience to come out to theatres to see the fight movie.

From the initial Rocky in 1976 to Balboa in 2006, the six Rocky movies were not merely boxing flicks; they were social commentaries for their time. Teenagers now access them via Netflix, Shomi and YouTube clips, and they stand up as time capsule pieces for their era. The same is true for Creed. It is forced to tackle the harsh realities of boxing as a sport and, more specifically, modern-day boxers face. The risk of catastrophic injuries and the cost-benefit analysis of living a fighter’s life is a constant narrative throughout the film. The lead is no longer Sylvester Stallone but Michael B. Jordan who plays Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. The necessity to live a fighter’s life is not present for Donnie in the same way it was for his father Apollo as he has the fiscal support of his dad’s riches. The fact Apollo died boxing makes it more of a radical decision for the son of Creed to follow his father’s footsteps.

As much as Creed is a continuation of Rocky Balboa’s story, it is in many ways the beginning of the Creed family story. That fact is exactly how Director Ryan Coogler convinced Stallone to allow him to do the project.

“I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Coogler reveals laughing after the fact, but says sternly to imply he’s not being sarcastic.

“I’m sure he hears lots of pitches. Once he understood that it was not dragging out Rocky’s story but giving this generation a new Rocky, a new under dog, he got it.”

Coogler directed and co-wrote Creed, making this the first movie in the franchise that wasn’t written by Stallone.

The proverbial under dog is the main tie between the two franchises. The formula has stayed the same. It is about an under dog who is against all odds looking to prove something to the world and himself.

It is also a story about love, as corny as that may sound. Creed is looking for love in a father figure in the now-retired Balboa the same way Rocky looked for affirmation from his trainer Mickey. The new “Adrian” as the main love interest is “Bianca,” played by Tessa Thompson. Playing a Philadelphia-born musician immune to the boxing world and Donnie’s past, Thompson’s portrayal is the performance of the movie as she routinely steals scenes.

We are in the era of the remake, with Jurassic World already out and the next Star Wars on the way. Creed debuts in the middle of the two but has the same agenda: please Baby Boomers and Millennials alike who have diametrical opposite sensibilities.

Creed composer Ludwig Göransson understood that as he incorporated the original theme from Rocky to evoke emotion, written by Bill Conti but also mixes in British hip-hop, trap, emo Jazz and R & B.

It is the music and production that make the film. Creed is sensory overload, bringing fight fans and those new to the Rocky franchise alike through an empathetic journey as to what it means to be a performer of the sweet science of boxing in the 21st Century.

Director Ryan Coogler taps into your senses and sensibilities with Creed, both simultaneously entertaining and informing you. The evolution of the Rocky franchise is in good hands.