The “Rocky” series seemed likely to be a permanent resident of the Home for Retired Franchises, but in the current revival-happy climate, nothing stays dead forever. “Creed,” co-written and directed by “Fruitvale Station’s” Ryan Coogler, at least puts a fresh spin on the story, casting Michel B. Jordan as the illegitimate son of Rocky’s rival-turned-mentor Apollo Creed and relegating Stallone to a poignant supporting role. Although the embargo review has just been lifted, critics who love the film have been itching to let their feelings show for weeks, and the most glowing notices go so far as to call it one of the best movies of the year. (Variety wasted no time naming Stallone a contender for a Best Supporting Actor nomination as well.)
As a rule, “Creed’s” strongest reviews come from critics who have the most invested in the “Rocky” series as a whole, the ones who’ve been waiting for the champ to get up off the canvas, even if it’s just for an exhibition bout. While those who are underwhelmed by “Creed” point to its formulaic script, its proponents find strength in the way it plays with formula, hitting the classic notes while forging its own path. (Jordan does jog through the Italian Market, but only for a second.) But for detractors, the minor modifications can’t make up for the feeling of been-there done-that, with the movie doing so little to develop Jordan’s character beyond the requisite story beats that he never takes on a life of his own. (The Wrap’s Robert Abele calls it “a ghost story without a ghost.”) Even some of the latter group admit it’s likely to be a big hit at the box office and propel both Coogler and Jordan to greater heights, which might count as a TKO even if the movie fails to land a decisive blow.
Reviews of “Creed”
Mike Ryan, Uproxx
This is the first time I’ve truly believed Sylvester Stallone as “Rocky Balboa” since the original film. Stallone is legitimately wonderful. It was hard to tell from the trailers if Stallone plays a big role in “Creed” or if it’s a glorified cameo, but Stallone is is a major presence in this film. Stallone himself directed “Rocky II,” “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV,” and “Rocky Balboa.” It’s amazing what happens when a talented director like Coogler is calling the shots: Coogler gets the best performance I’ve seen out of Stallone since… (I’m looking through Stallone’s filmography right now, trying to find something sort of recent as to not be too hyperbolic… still looking… still looking… okay, maybe “Cop Land,” let’s go with that instead of writing that it’s the original Rocky)… “Cop Land.” And before that, it’s probably the original “Rocky.”
Andrew Barker, Variety
Defying conventional wisdom about diminishing returns, this holiday season will see the release of the seventh installment in an iconic 1970s film franchise that not only lives up to the best of its predecessors, but also respectfully forges its own path. (Hopefully the new “Star Wars” movie is good, too.) With his “Rocky” spinoff, “Creed,” writer-director Ryan Coogler confirms every bit of promise he displayed in his 2013 debut, “Fruitvale Station,” offering a smart, kinetic, exhilaratingly well-crafted piece of mainstream filmmaking, and providing actor Michael B. Jordan with yet another substantial stepping stone on his climb to stardom. Yet the biggest surprise may be Sylvester Stallone: Appearing in the first “Rocky” film that he didn’t also write — and the first in which he takes on a supporting role — the veteran channels all his obvious love for the character into his performance, digging deeper as an actor than he has in years.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
In one of “Creed’s” best scenes, he places Donnie in front of a mirror and counsels him about the greatest opponent he’ll ever fight in or out of the ring; the man whose image he sees reflected back at him. It’s a classic Rocky moment that speaks to the themes of the overall franchise — in which the climactic fights were visually dynamic but narrative formalities because the real struggle was always between “Rocky” and his own sense of self-worth — as well as the ones important to this specific installment. There are two Donnies onscreen in that mirror scene, and throughout “Creed” the character wrestles with two very different identities, Donnie Johnson and Adonis Creed, and weighs how exactly to live up to his father’s legacy and step out of his shadow. Without straining credulity in the slightest, Coogler also finds one more opponent for the Italian Stallion to fight, and the sequences where Stallone battles his new adversary, and makes one more trek up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, are as poignant as Rocky screaming for Adrian at the end of the first Rocky.
Drew McWeeny, HitFix
What surprised me most about “Creed” was how it both fits into the series perfectly and also seems like a logical next personal step for Coogler as a filmmaker. “Fruitvale Station” was a justifiably angry look at a real incident that has become, if anything, more relevant since it was released two years ago. It is sad how timely the film remains, and it captures a very specific view of what life is like for young black men in American culture right now. “Creed” is concerned with fathers, sons, and what each gets from the relationship, and in particular, it has to do with the way young black men are left to grapple with the legacy of absent fathers so often. Do you take the name of someone who gave you nothing else, and even if they’re absent, is it really true that they didn’t give you anything? How much of who you are is determined by who your father was, and how do you make peace with someone you never get a chance to meet?
Yohanna Desta, Mashable
Aside from the Mickey nods, there are so many Easter eggs it’s impossible to keep count. From the “Because I can’t sing or dance” shirts to a goosebump-inducing rendition of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” to the simple way Rocky says the word “comfortable,” Coogler swaddles the production in the franchise’s legacy, to sweet effect. The film has it all — yes, even that Very Famous Thing you’re thinking of. But Coogler also brings something incredibly novel to the franchise, unapologetically creating a work that’s filtered through the lens of modern black life in Philadelphia. In one scene, Bianca casually explains the colloquial term “jawn” to Adonis. In another (set to “Lord Knows” by Philly’s own Meek Mill), kids ride dirt bikes through the street behind Adonis, in a contemporary tribute to this famous scene. In the same way that Rocky created a time capsule of Philadelphia in the late ’70s, Coogler captures the city for the modern era — complete with iPhone and Instagram references.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Sylvester Stallone doesn’t get back in the ring in “Creed,” but he still comes away as a big winner in this far-fetched but likeable offshoot of the geriatric “Rocky” series, as he may be more appealing playing the aging Rocky Balboa than he’s been since the beginning of his forty-year career. Essentially taking on the role of Burgess Meredith’s old trainer Mickey character from the series’ early days, the veteran actor delightfully registers as a paisano from the old neighborhood, a man of the streets who’s lived his life, fought his battles and has no more scores to settle. From the points of view of director-co-writer Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, this marks some major mainstreaming after their bracing 2013 breakthrough with “Fruitvale Station”; dramatically, it’s the same old “Rocky” formula applied now to the hitherto unknown son of the late Apollo Creed. It worked before and, commercially, looks to work again.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Seven movies in, the “Rocky” movies exist within a subgenre that generally follows the same beats each time out: Hardened fighter faces reservations about high profile fight, ultimately bites the bullet, trains a bunch and finally kicks ass on national television. “Creed” apes that formula to near-perfection, but it does so without feeling reductive. Much of that stems from Coogler’s steady hand behind the camera and Jordan’s gripping performance in front of it. Stallone himself, now grumbling his way into old age, provides ample support that links the proceedings to the baggage of past installments. As a result, “Creed” does justice to its roots while trying something new.
Robert Abele, The Wrap
The biggest irony about “Creed” is that what’s missing inside Adonis is a nagging question mark for the movie, too. Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed was a galvanizing force in the first four “Rocky” movies, but without him here, save the odd snippet of boxing footage, “Creed” creates a strange distance between the brassy, entertaining cockiness of Weathers’ performance, as fondly remembered by moviegoers, and the necessity of his absence being a driving force for Adonis. Though Jordan hits plenty of solid chip-on-his-shoulder notes in his portrayal of someone wondering whether his name is a blessing or a curse, the movie is like a ghost story without a ghost.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
Although highlighted by Michael B. Jordan’s formidable charisma, this reunion with his “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler is only sporadically compelling, resulting in a movie that never quite shakes the impression that it’s a novel but not particularly necessary addition to the Italian Stallion series. Sylvester Stallone returns as that beloved cinematic icon Rocky Balboa to train rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed’s long-lost son, but like “Creed” itself his performance is more about stirring nostalgia than finding much new to say about the four-decade odyssey of a prizefighter. As a Rocky movie, “Creed” is just too by-the-numbers — we get training montages, inspirational speeches and a big third-act bout — but Coogler digs into the details of Adonis’s life, especially as the young man tries to walk his own path while falling for a no-nonsense musician (a quite good Tessa Thompson) who’s losing her hearing. This may be the first film in the franchise in which the boxing scenes are so overshadowed by the personal moments, which have an unpredictability the rest of the film lacks.
Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
Its opening act is staggering in its inelegance, but the film keeps pounding through the predictable set-up and storyline until finally, when you think it can fight no longer and will have to throw in the towel, it charges back with some scenes of originality, pathos and, in ever-so-swift jabs, excitement. If you want to put yourself through this punishment, it’s probable you’ll come out the other end finding some merit.