At this point in time, I have only seen the first “Rocky” film. I’m unsure if I have talked about this, but sports films tend to bore me. At best, they’re predictable tales of underdogs overcoming all odds and winning the big game in a heroic fashion. At worst, you get films like “Southpaw,” which are a pain to sit through.
But “Rocky” was certainly different. Not only had the cliché of rags to riches in boxing not been fully utilized yet, but the film was less about boxing and more about second chances. About giving everything you have to reach your dreams, all driven by a performance that Sylvester Stallone has never topped.
Well, except for maybe his newest role in “Creed.”
Stallone is a one-of-a-kind actor. Maybe attempt to imitate him, but few have ever reached the versatility and longevity of a man who has been an action star in three long-running franchises and other classics like “Demolition Man.” He has seen his share of failures and ridicule, but anyone who can make a success in cinema and keep making people want to come back to see you nearly 40 years later gets nothing but respect in my book.
If there was one role that Stallone was born to play, it was Rocky Balboa. A man that he not only brought to life on the screen, but also created on paper by writing the screenplay for “Rocky.” Like Stallone, Rocky has evolved over the years, from the underdog, to inspiration, to champion and back down again. Now he can add mentor to that list.
“Creed” follows the young life of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed, as he attempts to make it into the boxing world. Not wanting to have the stigma of his father attached to him, he takes on the name of Donny Johnson, and pleads that he will make his own name in boxing. But now trainer is willing to take Adonis under their wing in Los Angeles, thus causing him to move to somewhere he could find someone – Philadelphia, the home of Rocky Balboa.
Rocky taking on the role of mentor and trainer to a new and upcoming boxer is good on its own, since he now becomes his trainer from the first film, Mick (Burgess Meredith), and pass on that knowledge to a new generation. But what elevates this even further is that Rocky is training the son of his rival and his best friend.
We’re given several reasons about why Rocky would train Adonis, since Rocky is given plenty of opportunities to train arguably better boxers. Perhaps it is because he wants to keep the name of Creed alive. Or it could be redemption, since Rocky partially blames himself for Apollo’s death in “Rocky 4.” But by the end of the film, we know why he chose Adonis – because this kid motives him to be a better man.
We learn that everyone Rocky cared about, including Adrian and Paulie, have been dead for some time. His son has moved far away and doesn’t want to be associated with him. He still visits the grave of his wife every day and reads her the newspaper. This is a man who lives in the past, but has taken the punishment that life has dished out to him and can’t take anymore. Boxing is the only life he knows now. It might have been the only life he ever knew.
And with the arrival of Apollo’s son, Rocky is once again given another chance, just like in the first film. Not just to fight, but to live again. To find a purpose in world and realize that even an old man make a difference.
Stallone’s performance speaks volumes of the torture that Rocky endures, being separated from Adrian, Paulie and his son, unable to box, unable to live. And in turn, the chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Stallone speaks beyond generations and to one of undying respect. Adonis adores Rocky for his skills and unbreakable will, while Rocky sees a man dedicated to a cause worth fighting for.
This is Stallone’s best performance since “Rocky,” and is amplified further by an equally great performance by Jordan.
Combine this with wonderful cinematography during the boxing sequences, including one fight done entirely in one shot while showing both sides of the fight, and the impact of the sports world like that of “Trainwreck” from earlier this year, and you get the best sports film in a long time.
“Creed” certainly wipes the bad taste of “Krampus” out of my mouth and has given me plenty to think about.
Final Grade: A