The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


In very understandable fashion, Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone is protective of his legacy, of his movies, of his iconic characters. No character from Stallone's career is more iconic than Rocky Balboa, the boxer from Philly and the Italian Stallion himself. He had been approached about playing Rocky again, turning the offer down until he saw the script for this movie, 2015's Creed. He made the right call if you were wondering. It is a gem.

An angry young man, about 12 years old, Adonis Johnson is taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of the late fighter Apollo Creed. Since his own mother died some years before, Adonis has bounced around the system going from group home to group home with a couple stints in juvy. Now, he's got a chance to amount to something. He learns he's the illegitimate son of Apollo, his father dying before he was born. Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) grows up, tries to lead his own life, all the while boxing on the side and teaching himself as he goes with some natural talent kicking in along the way. In his late 20's with some wins to his name, Adonis decides he wants to pursue boxing full-time, leaving behind everything he knows in Los Angeles to move to Philadelphia where he hopes to train and make something of himself. First up in Philly? Trying to convince Rocky Balboa (Stallone) himself to train him. That may be easier said than done.

From what I've read, Creed director/writer Ryan Coogler (Aaron Covington co-writing the screenplay) had approached Stallone previously about revisiting/rebooting Rocky from a different angle. Finally, Stallone saw a script he didn't just like but LOVED. With some gentle nudging from his wife, Rocky himself chose to come back again as the Italian Stallion. Here's the finished product. Long story short? It works so freaking well. If you're going to reboot a beloved series and one of the most beloved characters ever, this is how you do it. It isn't good. It's great.

What works so well is the respect Coogler, Covington and Jordan have for the franchise without being too nostalgic. Yes, it's cool seeing Rocky back on the streets of Philadelphia, but 'Creed' is able to find that perfect middle ground in between. It isn't too new. It isn't too nostalgic. Rocky is a hugely important character, but it's not his movie. It's young Adonis and aging Rocky. Coogler films in Philadelphia (necessarily and appropriately), giving the story a gritty, authentic feel. While it is polished, it is not overly polished. The camera is there through the training, through the fights, through the dialogue, and it's right there with the characters. It seems simple, but it gives you that feeling you're right there with the action. When you're down in the trenches, you feel the twists and turns far more than when you're watching from a distance.

Michael B. Jordan is an actor I've been aware of for several years, but this is the first role I'm actually seeing him in. Consider me a huge fan. What a great, subtle but heated and intense part for the young actor who is definitely on the road to bigger and better things as an actor and a movie star. I think the biggest compliment I can give to this performance is that -- like the film itself -- it feels very real. The emotions don't feel forced or awkward or twisted. This is a young man in his late 20's and is trying to find himself, find some answers about who he is and who he wants to be. As well, Adonis has to live up to his family name, something he doesn't want to be tarnished because of something he does or doesn't do. In a very nice touch, we also see his developing relationship with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a singer who lives in his building who's slowly losing her hearing. A ton of chemistry between the duo in a very believable relationship.

The heart of the movie though is the father-son, mentor-student relationship that develops between Adonis and Rocky. It is heartbreakingly perfect. Though they are at different points in their lives, they're also looking for the same thing; friendship, and more simply, a friend. I thought it was an appropriate choice not to stereotype Rocky or make him a cliche. This is the Rocky we know, just an older Rocky now in his late 60's. He's lost his wife and best friend but still runs his Italian restaurant in south Philly. When he meets the persistent Adonis, he resists at first at his request to train him but ultimately gives in. What results is spot-on. Sports cliches, training montages, it could all be overdone or too much, but Stallone's commitment to the part levels it. This feels like an authentic relationship from the moment we see the two together, and without giving away any spoilers, the way the Adonis/Rocky relationship grows is perfect for the tone of the story.

'Creed' doesn't focus on a long, long cast. It picks its characters and goes. Rashad is excellent in a smaller part as Adonis' adopted mother and Apollo's widow. Tony Bellew is excellent as "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, a British fighter, the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, with Graham McTavish as his trainer. Also look for Wood Harris and Ritchie Coster in key supporting parts.

Ready for a surprise (relative)? 'Creed' doesn't feature a whole lot of time in the actual boxing ring. Sure, there's training sequences as Adonis develops his boxing ability, but there's really only two fights (and one's relatively short, if effective). What's that mean? When we are in the ring, there is some FREAKING ENERGY. I won't spoil it, but Coogler keeps that camera moving without much in the way of editing. Very few cuts, but the camera is there shoulder-to-shoulder with our fighters. It's an impressive job shooting a sport that would probably be a lot easier to shoot with said hyper-fast editing.  As for that final fight, Coogler makes a brilliant choice. We haven't heard the Rocky theme to this point, but at an absolute perfect moment....oh, well, it's good. I'm getting chills just thinking about the moment.

Pretty much nothing to complain about here. Too many good, memorable, spine-tingling moments to mention, and I don't want to spoil them if you haven't seen the movie. Michael B. Jordan is excellent and an incredibly believable boxer/athlete. Sylvester Stallone steals the movie, reprising his Rocky role in a performance that will no doubt earn him a Best Supporting Actor nod and hopefully win it. He deserves it. The performance is that good. The whole movie is. I can't recommend it enough, for fans and non-fans of the Rocky series. Loved it.

Creed (2014): ****/****


  1. Agreed, this movie was a very pleasant surprise.

  2. i was bored silly. the romance was too easy. noisy music. please turn it down. we're in love. at least rocky had to pay money to get 10 minutes on the ice and told bad jokes at the pet store for an hour. i think this movie is what rocky 6 should have been; and i don't think there should have been a rocky 6 at all. creed wasn't horrible... i thought felt drowsy, and he looked nothing like carl weathers.