Don’t be fooled by the title. For all intents and purposes, Creed is Rocky 7. But it would be a mistake to be put off by the wheeziness of that late-stage number. Because, with apologies to Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago, Ryan Coogler’s rousingly emotional new film is the best installment since the 1976 original. It’s easy to read that last sentence and shrug. But Sylvester Stallone’s first Rocky was a dark, downbeat masterpiece that reflected its New Hollywood era. Creed taps into that same gritty underdog authenticity. Michael B. Jordan, reteaming with his Fruitvale Station director, plays Adonis Johnson―the out-of-wedlock son of Rocky’s love-hate rival, Apollo Creed.
Adonis, who never knew his father, was saved from a troubled childhood by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad). Now grown and hungry to make a name for himself in the ring, he refuses to use his famous surname. Adonis begs Rocky to train him. And slowly, the aging Italian Stallion’s reluctance melts when he sees how much the brash kid reminds him of himself back when he was a no-hope southpaw pounding frozen sides of beef. Creed is as formulaic and sentimental as you’d expect any Rocky movie to be, but Jordan and Stallone (looser and more vulnerable than he’s been in 30 years) give the film an undeniable, lump-in-the-throat poignancy. In the end it’s a movie about legacy, and it more than preserves the Rocky franchise’s. It reminds you why it was great in the first place. A-