It’s been nine years since Rocky Balboa said “goodbye.” I say that with quotes because it was presumed to be a farewell to both the character and the series that had been around for 30 years and spanned 6 films. As a devout Rocky fan, it was a sincere, bittersweet goodbye that didn’t leave anything unresolved. So you can expect that I was a weird mixture of excited and nervous to find out that they were doing a spin-off starring the son of Apollo Creed. Any sort of fear or anxiousness was dissolved within the first minutes of Creed (directed by Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler) as we are not only introduced to a great new character, but one that comes into his own, leaving us with confidence that the series is in good gloves.

From the start, it’s made blatantly clear that they are not concerned with sticking with the old ways of going about making these movies. It feels raw, real, visceral—most importantly it feels different. An early boxing match is shot in one continuous take, demonstrates the pure acting abilities of Michael B. Jordan who takes his spot as Adonis Creed, but also just how exciting the boxing is going to be now. It’s more exciting than it’s ever been.

Adonis is another underdog, but for his own reasons. Having been born the illegitimate son of Apollo, grew up in foster care, prefers to go by Donnie, and was raised by Apollo’s widow, Adonis tries his hardest to not let the name become his legacy. He does not want to have a name he does not deserve, nor does he want it to define him. He is as bull-headed as his father, fights in seedy Mexican bars on weekends, and ultimately quits his high-paying job to fight his way to the top in the ring.

Jordan proves his worth, giving us a new type of underdog. He isn’t some thug from the streets, he has to fight to make himself known, but also to earn the name of his father. Jordan proves himself to be a worthy successor to the saga even if this is just a one-off scenario with strength, determination, and likability—the same sort of mix that made Rocky so likable in the first place. In other words, if he is the future…it’s going to be bright.

Speaking of which, Rocky takes a backseat to Adonis, allowing him to get most of the spotlight. That doesn’t mean to say that Sylvester Stallone doesn’t have his moments. Following his last turn, where we come to find that his wife Adrian had passed away, we now learn that in the interim, so too did his best friend, Paulie. He takes over the position of coach that Burgess Meredith once held (Stallone is even the same age as Meredith was in the original). We get a sense of sadness; time has passed, life goes on, and age begins to take its toll, but it never takes over. He is still the legend of the city, and Stallone gives perhaps one of his most memorable performances. It is tender, fatherly, and authentic.

Like Rocky’s character, Creed doesn’t let the villain get much attention so as to develop the main character. Tony Bellew is as menacing and brutal as any Rocky villain should be, and thankfully he is left at that—he won’t rank among the best. Playing the love-interest, Tessa Thompson does a great job as Bianca, herself an underdog for her own reasons.

Creed is nothing but triumphant. With subtle changes to the formula, some much-needed tweaks to liven up the score, and great performances all around, the movie never becomes too cheesy for its own good and remains firmly grounded in its new style. Sure there are moments that all Rocky fans will connect with, but this is very much Jordan’s movie and he nails it with a haymaker. Creed is as inspirational, exciting, and heartfelt as any “Rocky” film—and you will always be on the edge of your seat laughing, crying, and cheering. If anything, Creed is a reminder of why we all love Rocky and a phenomenal indicator of things to come.

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