Not to get too gender normative or anything, but there is this thing called Man Tears. Urban Dictionary defines it as, "When one reaches a certain zenith of unbridled manliness, one cannot cry saline-based tears anymore. Instead, one's tear ducts will secrete other, lesser men, who then proceed to cry in one's stead." I have heard a lot of folks describe the act of watching Creed as an object lesson in the constant production of man tears and I think I am here to say that that is a load of crap. The tears streaming across my jowls (because I'm a turkey) were not the tears of man, but straight soul tears, bubbling out of a deep seated love of sports movies, daddy issues, and watching a movie alone at night in a big empty theater.
Creed is wonderful in the old school way by being built from the ground up with a solid script, excellent performances, and a structure that follows the great sports movies of the last 40 years without much embellishment. In actuality, nothing about this movie should work but it does so almost effortlessly and with a big beautiful heart on its sleeve.
Creed follows the life of the Adonis "Donnie" Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers in Rocky I-IV. Apollo was Rocky's opponent in the first two movies and then became his trainer and friend in the following two, only to die in the ring (in Rocky's arms) from a beating by Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Donnie never met Apollo, who died before he was born, and spent most of his life bouncing around group homes and foster care before Apollo's widow adopts him. But fighting is in Donnie's blood and no matter how sweet the life he leads, all roads lead him to Philadelphia and the tutelage of Rocky Balboa.
Just based on that description, the film should have been a cloying, formulaic slog, but director Ryan Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone have instead created one of the best films of the year.
My initial nervousness about the film actually had nothing to do with the film itself, but with the legacy of Rocky. While Rocky V is pretty terrible, 2006's Rocky Balboa was a beautiful send-off to the character and I couldn't imagine that delving back into his world would produce any additional dividends. I could not have been more mistaken.
People will say that Creed is the star making performance for Jordan, but that is completely devaluing the work he has put in ever since he played the absolutely unforgettable Wallace in the first season of HBO's "The Wire." As Vince Howard on "Friday Night Lights" and as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station he proved that he wasn't just a leading man, but a real actor who cares about doing powerful and memorable work. The work Stallone does here should not be undersold, though. His work is subtle and, frankly, beautiful, and he genuinely deserves some awards consideration here.
Creed follows the formula flawlessly. There is a love interest (with her own interests, ideas, and brain for once, and excellently played by Tessa Thompson), a training montage, a third act shake-up that almost ruins everything and a final fight the audience is so invested in that it's hard to sit still. It all works so well it's almost ridiculous, but it doesn't matter. I want more Creed movies and I want them immediately. Rocky, Donnie Creed, and company are far from done with this fight. Let those tears flow.
Dir. Ryan Coogler
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium