Amid all the Oscar contenders releasing this fall, it’s easy for great films sitting just a shade below the “Best Picture” tier to get lost in the shuffle. One such movie, Creed, is one of the season’s most surprising successes, as the latest installment in the Rocky saga. There’s an argument to be made that none of the five sequels preceding Creed have ever managed to live up to the 1976 Rocky, and with that in mind, hopes weren’t all that high that this would be the one to finally match the Oscar-winning original. As it turns out, Creed exceeded any and all expectations by a longshot.
Creed‘s 93% Rotten Tomatoes score is the highest such rating the franchise has seen since Rocky‘s identical number in 1976. In terms of sheer quality, it’s right on par with the film that revolutionized the sports movie genre. When the bar for success is an Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s no small task setting yourself apart as a sequel, especially almost 40 years after the fact. Creed is the second try in the Rocky franchise for a movie not centered around Sylvester Stallone as the main fighter, making its climb to significance that much steeper for its main star, Michael B. Jordan.
With the skilled hand of Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) at the creative helm though, we have a boxing movie that stands apart both thematically and stylistically. It deftly handles delicate issues like privilege, race, and family, all while hitting all the necessary touch-points of a classic Rocky movie. Coogler’s work on Fruitvale Station show us a writer/director who knows his way around racial subtext, something that simply can’t be ignored when it comes to the complexity of our title character, Adonis Creed (Jordan).
The story behind the younger Creed is wrapped in layers of infidelity, a troubled childhood, and dealing with the specter of his father’s death in the ring we saw in Rocky IV. Rather than trying to make the movie yet another chapter in the long history of Rocky Balboa’s personal journey, we instead see the fallout Rocky’s life decisions. Balboa still holds himself responsible for Apollo’s death, which in turn left Adonis, the product of his father’s sleeping around, to fend for himself as he’s passed around various foster homes. It’s equal parts a sports film and an apt commentary on black culture that Coogler already has proven a propensity for with his past work.
From a visual standpoint, a boxing movie is only as good as its fight scenes, and Creed is driven by its bone-rattling depictions of the brutal sport. This is highlighted by a stunning single-shot fight between Adonis and his first opponent. We’ve seen the one-shot strategy used to varying degrees of success in modern cinema (sometimes unnecessarily), but Coogler’s creative choice in this instance is spot on. It captured the chaos and loneliness of being in the ring as a boxer, while giving us something entirely new in the realm of sports films.
Creed went up against some stiff competition at the box office with the final Hunger Games movie and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur as its main challengers. Ever the one to silence the doubters though, it hauled in a respectable $29 million in its opening weekend. It seems likely that Coogler and co. have successfully revived the Rocky franchise, with any sequels likely to feature Adonis Creed as the title fighter. His own personal journey is one that feels similar to Balboa’s in all the right ways, while still digging into issues we’ve never before seen in the franchise. Simply put, it’s a safe bet Creed is remembered as the best Rocky movie to hit theaters in almost four decades.
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