It has been nearly 40 years since we first met Rocky Balboa. Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar for 1976 and led to five sequels, the most recent in 2006. Sylvester Stallone thought that film, Rocky Balboa, would be a fitting coda for the character that brought him such fame and fortune, but young filmmaker Ryan Coogler — a lifelong fan of the films — had another idea. Now for the first time Stallone did not write the script, which is credited to Coogler and Aaron Covington. As I say in my video review (click the link above), this is not your father’s Rocky movie but a whole re-invention centered on the previously unknown illegitimate son of past Balboa opponent Apollo Creed (played in the earlier films by Carl Weathers).

pete hammond review badgeMichael B. Jordan, who worked with Coogler in on the 2013 indie sensation Fruitvale Station, takes on the part of Adonis Creed, and the character is a nice twist on the original Creed. He never knew his father, who died before he was born. He’s a scrappy kid, brought up in nice surroundings thanks to being taken in by Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad, nicely understated) who learns who his father was — and soon discovers he’s got his dad’s boxing DNA. This takes him to Philadelphia and the restaurant now run by Rocky Balboa with a quest to make the former boxing star his trainer. After resisting the idea to become a corner man, Rocky finds himself pulled into this kid’s world and back into the boxing universe he left behind.

Coogler has cleverly turned the tables, and this Creed is the underdog with heart that we find ourselves pulling for against fearsome opponents in the ring. In fact, all of his opponents rocky2are pro boxers in real life including three-time ABA heavyweight champ Anthony Bellew. Although the film follows a distinct formula put in place by Stallone all those decades ago, it has its own heart and soul and could be the precursor to a new series of films centered on Adonis. The boxing sequences are stunning, including an early one that is basically one big shot with striking singular camera work (cinematographer is Maryse Alberti, who shot The Wrestler). There’s a gritty indie feel to much of what Coogler gets on the screen, but he hasn’t forsaken what we — and he — loved about the Rocky legacy. It has just been passed to the NextGen, with the exception of giving a meaty, moving supporting role to Stallone, who delivers his best screen work since, well, his Oscar-nominated turn that introduced us to Rocky Balboa in 1976.

It certainly is hard to keep reinventing the wheel but somehow Coogler, Jordan and Stallone have done it with Creed, resulting in an entertaining and satisfying new chapter. Special note also to Tessa Thompson, who plays Bianca, a singer who serves as a romantic involvement for Adonis — in the same way Adrian was there for Rocky.

Stallone hasn’t totally left his behind-the-scenes involvement, serving as a producer along with original producers Irwin Winkler and the late Robert Chartoff plus Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler and Kevin King Templeton. MGM and Warner Bros along with New Line Cinema are the producing entities for the movie, which Warners releases Wednesday nationwide.

Do you plan to see Creed? Let us know what you think.