MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★★
Release year: 2015
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Drama, Sports Director: Coogler

It’s not very often that two film series originating in the 1970s release a seventh film featuring the same actors playing the same characters nearly 40 years later. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed, such a phenomenon has happened in 2015. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler’s addition to the Rocky Balboa boxing films is radical in two senses of the word: it fundamentally changes the nature of the Rocky series while also going back to the roots of what made the series work. It’s a coming-of-age drama featuring affecting performances, exemplary directing, and some thrilling moments in the boxing ring. In short, it’s a knockout. Yes, that’s a corny line. This is a boxing movie. It’s appropriate.

While every previous film followed underdog fighter Rocky Balboa, Creed turns its attention to the titular boxer’s son, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed from the previous films. Adonis’s mother was not Apollo’s wife, and Adonis walks through life with the interior shame of his origins. While he’s later raised by Apollo’s wife, Mary Anne, he’s still trying to make a name and identity for himself. When I see Adonis, I see every young man and woman I’ve encountered as a pastor to youth and young adults–the questions about vocation and identity, the passion and anxiety, the deep-rooted desire to truly be somebody.

Boxing films can fall into some common tropes–the grizzled trainer, the training montage, the big climactic fight. Creed has all of these and manages to exceed banality through the stellar performances and Coogler’s direction. Jordan has charisma in spades as Adonis Johnson, and carries the film on his capable and uber-muscular shoulders. Sylvester Stallone gives one of the best dramatic performances of his career–maybe the best–as the elderly Balboa in the mentoring role he once needed in the original 1976 film. There’s definite chemistry between the two leads, yet every supporting character also contributes to the strength of the film. Creed is also being recognized for its no-cut boxing scene mid-way through a film, a perfectly choreographed dance between actors and cameras without ever becoming a gimmick or distraction. Coogler’s previous film was the excellent Fruitvale Station, and his sophomore effort here is even stronger. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

The biblical parallels within Creed are certainly present. A son born under dubious circumstances ultimately rising to fame and finding redemption. The pursuit of truth and living in to who you were created to be. Themes of legacy and forgiveness, patience and regret, life and death. Just think of the title: the word stems from credo, meaning “belief” or “faith.” In the final fight against the world champion, Adonis is given a gift by his mother: boxing shorts featuring the stars-and-stripes emblem of his father. The rear of the shorts reads the name “Johnson.” Emblazoned on the front: “Creed.” It’s a significant moment for this young man’s identity and vocation. The old name is behind him while the new name sits front and center for the world to see. Abram becomes Abraham. Simon becomes Peter. Johnson–the son of John–becomes Creed, taking on the name of his father and embracing his true self. “I’m not a mistake,” he utters in the ring. I wiped tears from my eyes when he said it, swept up by the story and performances and mythos of Creed, of Rocky. I’m not a mistake either. None of us are mistakes. Sometimes it takes a thrilling boxing movie to remind us of our true selves.

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