If 2018’s Creed II was Rocky IV, then logically this should be Creed V, right? Well, it is and isn’t. This threequel still has the blistering boxing fists of Michael B. Jordan as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, reprising his role that is part of the RCU (Rocky Cinematic Universe).
Mashing up elements of both Rocky III and Rocky V, we start with a brief prologue of when Adonis Creed (Jordan) was a young teen (played by Thaddeus J. Mixon) in L.A. and hangin’ out with dangerous friend and boxer, Damian “Dame” Anderson (Spence Moore II), who eventually gets sent to prison. Meanwhile, in the present, Adonis is enjoying the sweet, sweet life of retirement with his loving wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a former singer-turned-music producer, and their adorable 10-year-old deaf daughter, Amara (deaf actress Mila Davis-Kent). Adonis still keeps busy, grooming the current reigning heavyweight boxer, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez, jr) who is training to meet Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) in the ring for the next big fight. Everything is looking swell! Until. . .
Bad news rolls back into town and into Adonis’ life when Damian (Jonathan Majors) just shows up, wanting to be friends again, and asks (okay, he guilt-trips) Adonis to helping him train to be the next heavyweight champion! How far will this strained friendship last as Damian is a brute, violent, and unpredictable. After Viktor Drago gets Nancy Kerrigan’d at a party, the big boxing event is off. . . or is it? Adonis takes a wild chance and lets Damian fight Felix for the championship and, after the stomach-churning, ghastly fight, Damian becomes a loud-mouthed, strutting ass that has Adonis seeing red. That means only one thing: revenge and honor! Cue the training montage for both guys and the inevitable third-act fight finale between Adonis and Damian.
First off, I don’t really like boxing movies. They’re often predictable, clichéd, and dull. But not this one! Screenwriters Keegan Coogler (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) have crafted a tight, smart, and genuinely moving script that is a cut above all those other cookie-cutter boxing films. Beautifully combining the retirement and loss story from Rocky III and the friendship and betrayal arc from Rocky V, this more-than-just-a-boxing movie could have been a stand-alone dramatic outing without the boxing aspect. And the actors heighten the script by giving it such credibility by their non-acting. Michael B. Jordan (who also serves as director) is remarkable; his range is Oscar-worthy as he negotiates the pressures of being an ex-champ, his loyalty to a past friend, and family responsibilities. His quiet moments with Amara are heart-warming.
Jonathan Majors, fresh off his incredible role as Kang in Ant-Man/Quantumania, doubles down and nearly steals every scene alongside Jordan with his intense, smoldering, and animalistic looks. Thompson is excellent as the caring, devoted wife and newbie Mila Davis-Kent is terrific. Phylicia Rashad reprises her role as Creed’s mom and has a few great scenes, and it’s great to see Munteanu return again (however short) as Viktor Drago. Sorry, people, Sly Stallone bowed out of this film as he wanted this one to be all about Adonis. I have to agree, as any cameo by Rocky would have detracted from the main story.
Another wonderful gift (and surprise) to this threequel is the debut of Michael B. Jordan as the film’s director. Having been in 59 TV shows & movies, and being directed by the likes of Ryan Coogler, Destin Daniel Cretton, Josh Trank, and Steven Caple, jr., can give you a great education in the field of direction and camera work, and you can see it here in Jordan’s first film. He doesn’t rest on his laurels as just an actor but really pulls out all the stops and delivers a damn fine movie. **Be warned, though. The fighting scenes are not for the faint of heart!
**Now showing only in theaters
Rocky V (1990)
After the laughably silly Rocky IV (aka Rocky Goes To Russia), nobody thought another Rocky film would be a good idea, especially if written by Stallone again. But, apparently, Sly had another idea in mind for his Philly hero and it worked!
Picking up right after Rocky’s fight with Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Russia, Rocky is facing some serious debilitating brain issues, but no time to explore those issues, it’s time to go home to the good ol’ USA and announce his retirement. Problem is, he gets harassed at a press conference by loud-mouthed and flamboyant boxing promoter, George Washington Duke (Richard Gant–doing a spot-on impersonation of promoter Don King) who insists that Balboa fight his boxer, Union Cane (Michael Williams). Balboa refuses and goes home to his luxury mansion, his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), obnoxious brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), and his tween son, Rocky, jr. (Sage Stallone). That’s when the problems begin.
Thanks to Paulie’s stupidity (it’s always Paulie, right?), Rocky finds out he’s flat broke and owes major $$$. Forced to move back to his old neighborhood, Rocky reopens Mick’s old boxing gym to make a buck. Look for a touching scene featuring the ghost of Mick (Burgess Meredith) and Rocky. Anyway, Rocky is harassed by Duke to fight again, but turned down, thanks to Adrian and Rocky’s dain bramage. . . I mean, brain damage. Enter a devastating new boxer from Oklahoma named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison, an IRL heavyweight boxer) who begs Rocky to train & manage him. Rocky agrees and (cue the montage scene) together they burn up the boxing charts until Tommy “The Machine” Gunn is 22 and 0 in his fights! In a side plot, Rocky, jr. is being ignored at home by his dad and picked on by bullies at school.
Meanwhile, Tommy’s impressive wins catches the eye of evil promoter Duke, who gives Tommy money, a new car, a hot skanky girlfriend, and a shot at the heavyweight title. This breaks the trust and brotherhood that Rocky and Tommy had, and after Tommy wins the heavyweight title, he wants to fight Rocky, which leads to the finale; a knock-down, drag-out fight in the street & alleys of Philly. Again written by Stallone, but directed this time by John G. Avildsen (Rocky, The Karate Kid movies), this was better than the previous silly Russian outing. The original script, BTW, had Rocky dying in the arms of Adrian after the final fight. Yeah, Stallone killed off his character in this movie, but he later changed his mind and rewrote the ending.
Although it was a financial bonanza at the box office, it was a critical disaster and earned seven nominations at the Golden Rasberry Awards. Personally, I loved it. It was grittier, more realistic than that part four joke, and boasted better acting which included some fine performances from Stallone, Shire, and Gant (who stole the movie). Okay, yes, it had problems like the ignored Rocky having brain injuries and the “one more blow to the head could kill him” idea. The opening where Rocky (in Russia) is having serious neurological issues was a great way to start, but it’s never addressed later or continued! He just gets off the plane later and it’s, “Hey, yo, Adrian look, I’m all better!” LOL! Brain injuries don’t work like that!