The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Rocky is a Best Picture winner that became a long-running franchise, which if we're being honest stripped a bit of the luster from its Oscar win. The series became sillier, hitting a nadir with Rocky IV, which is admittedly fun in all the wrong kinds of ways. From there, it became slightly gimmicky, bringing in a kid for Rocky V, then going for the standard return-to-roots comeback vibe with Rocky Balboa. All the individual films have their merits to some degree, but none are really on par with the original. The latest sequel, Creed, takes a slightly new approach. It's not so much a Rocky sequel as it is a movie set in the Rocky universe. That's a crucial difference, and one that marks the film as a high point in the franchise.

Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (famously played by Carl Weathers). A misspent youth, he was eventually taken in by the wife (Phylicia Rashad) Creed cheated on. As a young man, Adonis decides that he, too, wants to be a professional fighter, so he makes his way to Philadelphia, where he convinces Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. He initially tries to hide his connection to his famous father, but others are intent on bringing the secret to light. Meanwhile, Adonis romances a young singer named Bianca (Tessa Thompson) who lives in his building. Since it wouldn't be right for a Rocky movie to end without a big fight, Creed has one with high personal stakes for the young boxer.

The smartest thing Sylvester Stallone did was to not write and/or direct this film, as he did with all the previous sequels (minus Rocky V, which put John G. Avildsen back in the director's chair). Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) brings a fresh set of eyes to the project. He clearly understands and respects the appeal of the 1976 original, and he pays tribute to the franchise as a whole in the screenplay he co-wrote with Aaron Covington. But Coogler also brings his own touches. One of them is some innovative staging, including a dazzling boxing match done entirely in one unbroken shot (or least appearing to be). Another is providing a more internal motivation for the central character. Whereas Rocky wanted to prove himself to the world, Adonis needs to prove himself to himself. He is ashamed of things about his heritage, and believes that being a good fighter will earn him a degree of self-respect that he can't or won't allow himself to find any other way.

Michael B. Jordan once again proves himself to be the real deal, effectively making Adonis' inner struggle feel true. We sense how deep and real the stakes are as he looks for a way to establish himself outside of his famous father's shadow, even though he's choosing the same career path. Jordan has some very touching scenes with Stallone, who takes on a mentoring role here. What's so captivating about his performance is that you can see a touch of identification in it. Rocky knows that Adonis is so good that his skills could be life-changing. Similarly, Stallone knows that playing Adonis could open a lot of career doors for Jordan, just as it did for him. There are moments where the line between reality and fiction blur, creating a character dynamic that is surprisingly affecting.

Creed is also just a good old-fashioned underdog story, one that earns your rooting interest early on, then continues building it. Yes, it follows a fairly traditional formula, but so what? With strong performances, a worthy theme about learning to like yourself, and some appropriate but not corny references to key moments from the Rocky series, Creed works both as part of a larger franchise and on its own massively entertaining terms.

( 1/2 out of four)

Creed is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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