Spin-off Touches Gloves with Original

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia

A throwback to the original “Rocky” conceived by Sylvester Stallone way back in 1976, “Creed” hits similar notes in terms of characters, story and style, but wisely finds its own path. “Creed” is the second collaboration between writer/director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan; their first being the great “Fruitvale Station.” What they bring to the table, on screen and off screen, is simply magnetic: “Creed” is a fierce and triumphant entry into the Rocky saga anchored by raw performances, sharp direction and a fighting spirit.

Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Covington, tells the story of Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the product of an affair that his father, legendary boxer Apollo Creed, had before his tragic death in the ring.

After bouncing in and out of juvenile detention centers and foster homes at a young age, Adonis is adopted by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of Apollo. Despite having the opportunities and education that his father never had, Adonis pursues a career in boxing, eventually tracking down Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him.

The cast is exceptional. Jordan excels as a confused, headstrong bastard-child of a fallen giant, deeply disturbed that he never knew his father and determined to build his own legacy. Stallone brings an honest and real vulnerability to his character that harkens back to “Rocky Balboa,” although he now faces even bigger challenges. Tessa Thompson is brilliant as Bianca, the love interest of Adonis who writes and performs her own music.

Like the original “Rocky,” this film is a somber, character-driven tale with more on its mind than just boxing. Adonis and Rocky have a father-son relationship, one that feels earnest thanks to Coogler’s handling of it.

In their first encounter in Rocky’s restaurant, Rocky and Adonis are framed in front of pictures of some of Rocky’s greatest fights, showing viewers the characters are profoundly influenced by the past. The love story is equally compelling, with Bianca and Adonis sharing some quiet and beautiful scenes together, mainly on the first date. The boxing scenes are sensational, particularly the first in which Coogler captures it all in one fluid take.

The soundtrack of “Creed,” created by Ludwig Goransson, is a masterful rendition of what made the “Rocky” soundtrack iconic. Packed with old school, '70s style symphonic orchestra music, Goransson gives the music a modern day kick of hip-hop and R&B to create a unique sound. While the film’s score isn’t afraid to get loud and rambunctious in moments of intensity and peril, it also features soft and soothing songs, written and performed by Thompson.

Like any boxing movie, “Creed” follows a number of clichés and tropes that viewers will see coming. But the film, like its protagonist, finds its voice and makes a statement. At the end of the day, “Creed” is a wonderful film.