The Rocky franchise permeates my childhood memories. I remember Rocky chasing a chicken, participating in a macho street fight, and of course I remember the exasperated Russian robot swearing that little Rocky is not a man, but a piece of iron. That being said, nostalgia doesn’t overwhelm me when I think about Rocky. It’s not one of my beloved franchises.
Director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have made me more excited about the Rocky universe (is everything a “universe” nowadays?) than I ever have been. Coogler understands that the best sports movies are usually not about the sports involved. Similar to the impressive Warrior, Creed is about relationships. Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Jordan) struggles against a legacy he’s unsure he can live up to, that of his deceased father Apollo Creed. Johnson seeks out his father’s rival Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), but the elder champion doesn’t always fit Johnson’s expectations or ideals.
Coogler deserves most of the credit for the film as a whole, but Jordan and Stallone riff off of each other like real family members, with love and tension resting close to the surface. The reason Creed works so well is Coogler nails both the emotional and physical impacts of the story. The boxing choreography is excellent, and Coogler isn’t afraid to pull the camera back and allow the audience to witness the boxers circling each other and swinging away. Jordan performs his own stunts, and it pays off. If you’re not tensed up and cheering for the young Creed by the end of the film, you’re bad at watching sports films. I’m looking forward to watching more of Creed’s journey, and I hope Coogler returns to add more depth to the storied franchise.