“Creed” has a tough fight ahead if it hopes to beat the “Hunger Games” finale at the box office this weekend, but at least the “Rocky” spinoff has the critics in its corner.
Director Ryan Coogler‘s drama following the rise of the late boxer Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), has a stunning 96 percent approval rating from critics counted on Rotten Tomatoes. Of 59 total reviews, so far, only two are deemed “rotten.”
Although TheWrap’s Robert Abele concluded the seventh film in Sylvester Stallone‘s iconic franchise “never rises above being one more by-the-numbers ‘Rocky’ retread,” the vast majority of other critics found reasons to root for “Creed.”
Here are seven that might compel you to give Hollywood’s latest boxing drama a shot when Warner Bros., MGM and New Line release it in theaters on Nov. 25.
1. Stallone is at his best.
TimeOut New York critic Joshua Rothkopf wrote, “Of Stallone’s surprisingly tender performance–a definitive late-career triumph–enough can’t be said. He stares skyward when someone mentions the Cloud, reads the paper at grave sites and lives in memories. But Adonis brings back the fight in him. Stallone has not only taken a risk on Coogler but submitted to a personal sea change. And when those trumpets do blare, a new actor emerges.”
2. There are plenty of references to “Rocky” movies you love.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper wrote, “Writer-director Coogler (who directed Jordan in the excellent “Fruitvale Station” in 2013) takes a chance in revisiting so many familiar and beloved touchstones from previous ‘Rocky’ films, from the training sequences to another journey up the stone steps at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the introduction of yet another colorful, seemingly indestructible champion — this time one ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), an undefeated, undisputed light-heavyweight from Great Britain who is getting one last fight before he’s off to prison. In nearly every instance (save a goofy, choreographed sequence with some Philly street-bike daredevils), Coogler pulls it off in stylish fashion.”
3. Coogler shines behind the camera in a “Fruitvale Station” follow-up that proves he’s no one-hit wonder.
A.V. Club critic Jesse Hassenger wrote, “Faced with less heavy material, he ups his showmanship considerably. He makes judicious use of long takes, following Adonis and Rocky off the street, up some stairs, and into their training gym for the first time, and depicting an entire mid-movie boxing match in a single unbroken shot, temporarily turning the ring into Creed’s entire world. In Coogler’s hands, elements as basic as a training montage, freeze-frames that briefly display a boxer’s background and statistics, or a rallying run through the streets of Philadelphia become thrilling and funny again. On a pure technical level, this may be the best-looking and best-made of the series.”
4. It’s a crowd pleaser that will make you want to get up and cheer.
ReelViews critic James Berardinelli wrote, “The fights are well-staged and the climactic bout pits the protagonist against a suitably nasty opponent. Coogler provides enough rousing moments to get the adrenaline pumping – there are times when the urge to jump up and cheer is almost too strong to resist. But there’s more to Creed and it is elevated by the quiet, subtle elements. Much as Rocky became a classic and won a Best Picture Oscar because of the importance of the Rocky/Adrian love story, so Creed advances to a higher orbit by focusing on the Adonis/Rocky relationship and the decline of a man once thought to be indomitable. 2015 has seen its share of sequels; perhaps surprisingly, Creed is among the best.”
5. Sure, it’s formulaic, but the tale of an underdog fighting against the odds doesn’t feel old.
Seattle Times critic Soren Anderson wrote, “‘Creed’ is a ‘Rocky’ movie to its core. The hero’s name is different, but his character arc is the one fans of the series know oh so well: To rise from obscurity; to get a shot at the title; to pummel and be pummeled; to go the distance… The movie’s tropes are comforting in their familiarity. The tale of a decent hero fighting long odds never gets old.”
6. It’s the best “Rocky” movie since the original.
TheWrap’s Tim Appelo ranked the movies and agrees with Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips who dared to say that despite its simple story (a wannabe boxer gets trained by a has-been for a big fight), “Creed” is “easily the best ‘Rocky’ movie since ‘Rocky.’ There is, in fact, more filmmaking savvy in co-writer and director Ryan Coogler‘s prowling opening shot, introducing us to young Adonis Johnson in a 1998 LA prologue, than there was in all of the ’76 original.”
You can add Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty to the list of admirers who haven’t been this impressed since the first time Rocky Balboa triumphantly ran to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.
7. So good, it’s an Oscar contender.
Philadelphia Inquirer critic Steven Rea thinks so, at least.
“Stallone took ‘Rocky’ all the way to the bank – and to the Academy Awards in 1977, where it beat out ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ for best picture. It is not inconceivable – not at all – to imagine ‘Creed’ in the running in the same category when nominations are announced early next year,” Rea wrote. “And for Jordan to be in the running for best Actor, and Stallone in the supporting actor lineup. ‘Everyone here knows they’ve seen something special,’ Rocky says after Adonis’ climactic fight. It’s hard to argue with the man.”