Creed Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Rated PG-13. Opens Wednesday.
No one has ever accused Sylvester Stallone of being modest, so it’s a big symbolic gesture for him to hand over the reins to one of his signature characters, hardscrabble boxer Rocky Balboa, to up-and-coming filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). Whatever persuaded Stallone to allow Coogler to make the first Rocky movie that Stallone didn’t write himself, it was a smart move: Not only is Coogler’s Creed a solid, rousing boxing drama about young Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), it’s also an unexpectedly affecting look at Rocky himself in his twilight years, featuring Stallone’s best performance in a long time.
Adonis is the illegitimate son of classic Rocky opponent/friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who died in 1985’s Rocky IV. Determined to follow in the footsteps of the father he never met, Adonis moves to Philadelphia and coerces the retired Rocky into training him. What follows is pretty standard boxing-movie stuff, as eventually this underdog newcomer lands a high-profile title fight. But Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington handle it with confidence, gracefully blending familiar elements of the Rocky franchise with a more contemporary look at a boxer’s life.
Jordan gives a typically charismatic performance that should help his movie-star rise, but Stallone is the big surprise. Coogler gives him some weighty material, and Stallone nails it all, along with the father-son chemistry between Rocky and Adonis. The movie meanders a bit toward the end, and it features its share of cheesy moments. But in that sense, it’s just continuing the Rocky tradition, and it burnishes the series’ legacy while giving it a new lease on life.