Rocky Franchise Revived with Compelling, Character-Driven Spin-Off When most people think of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), what automatically comes to mind is the iconic image of a gutsy underdog easy to root for who held his own in the boxing ring against a variety of imposing adversaries. Each installment of the series has basically revolved around the hype leading to a riveting championship bout between a veritable David and Goliath.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed is a worthy spin-off which not only pays homage to that tried-and-true formula but also represents a bit of departure for the beloved franchise. What's new is the fact that this film devotes as much attention to character development as to ratcheting up the tension surrounding the fateful showdown.
The picture reunites Coogler with Michael B. Jordan, the star of his directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed Frutivale Station. Here, Jordan plays, Adonis Johnson, a juvenile delinquent who's had his share of scrapes with the law, thanks to a quick temper and a tendency to settle differences with a pair of unusually powerful fists.
Just past the point of departure, the hot-headed orphan is informed by Apollo Creed's (Carl Weathers) widow (Phylicia Rashad) that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky's original archenemy. That at least explains the inclination to fight that's ostensibly been baked into his DNA.
Fast-forward a few years, when Adonis has learned to channel his anger and explosive might via boxing. Over the objections of his adoptive mom (Mrs. Creed) he decides to follow in his father's footsteps.
So, he moves from L.A. to Philly where he finds Rocky running a restaurant called Adrian's. Adonis prevails upon the ex-champ to serve as his trainer. Rocky agrees on the condition the kid changes his surname to Creed, and the next thing you know the kid rises in the ranks to #1 contender and luckily lands a title fight with Pretty Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellow).
Meanwhile, Adonis falls in love with his next-door neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring hip-hop artist on the verge of making it in her own right. Away from the gym, he spends some quality time with Rocky, too, offering a little heartfelt, if unsolicited advice that just might save his aging mentor's life.
"Rocky" and the next Roman numeral might not be in the title, but this engaging and faithful seventh episode includes all the fixins to amount to a highly-recommended spin-off of the storied franchise. Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sensuality
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
To see a trailer for Creed, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtWoDw3GvlA