Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
(PG-13, 132 min.)
“One Step. One punch. One round at a time!” Rocky Balboa
He’s no longer the writer, director, or the leading man, but Sylvester “Rocky” Stallone is very much the star of Creed.
Perhaps this is so because of the grace and charm that Rocky, the character as well as his iconic star, yields the spotlight to a younger boxer. For the first time in the nearly 40-year-old franchise, “Rocky” is not ringside, unless you count his corner presence as a trainer.
Here Rocky has someone worth training, ridding us of the sour taste of that ungrateful Tommy Gunn from the inglorious Rocky V. He is Adonis “Donny” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, whose father died in the ring before he was born. We first see him serving time in a juvenile youth facility, a “nice boy” but one who likes to fight as the matron explains to his visitor. That visitor happens to be Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who has a big enough heart to love and raise a son that was the product of her husband’s infidelity.
Loved and cradled in a sprawling mansion, Donnie is never quite comfortable there, though we see that he and his now “mom” really love and care for each other. He is well educated and has a job at a securities firm, but sneaks down to Tijuana to fight in secret on the weekends. He is a strange mix of two if not three worlds. One, the world of ease and love that Mary Anne provides for him. Two, the street life he had before, a product of rejection and abandonment. And third, Apollo’s bloodline. We are not sure how much of his urge to fight is driven by the knowledge of his parentage finally revealed to him by Mary Anne, or how much of it is just in his blood.
Donnie himself doesn’t know. But he desperately wants to prove he is “not a mistake.” He still goes by Johnson, his mother’s name, and wants to prove himself outside of his father’s shadow. When the LA gym refuses to let him train there, probably at Mary Anne’s insistence, he goes where we always knew he would.
To Philly, to meet his father’s rival and then best friend, Rocky Balboa, whose only workouts now are unloading the crates of tomatoes for Adrian’s, the restaurant named in memory of the love of Rocky’s life.
We all know the drill here, but that doesn’t take away from its charm. Refusing to bank on his name, Donnie asks Rocky to train him, and gets the expected rebuff. Rocky doesn’t even visit his old gym anymore, he says. Only when Donnie looks at a picture on the restaurant wall and asks if that is from the 10th round of Rocky’s fight with Apollo does he pique the pugilist’s attention.
Needles to say, ultimately Rocky agrees and begins to train Donnie. And as in the original and the best of the sequels, it is the training and not the fight that anchors the film. Donnie chases chickens to improve his speed and agility. He jumps rope in a routine so complicated not even those supremely focused eight-year-old playground jump rope mavens could master it. And neither does he at first.
But probably the training sequence that stands out the most is the one where Rocky walks him up to a full-length mirror:
You see this guy here? That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face.
I believe that’s true in the ring, and I think that’s true in life.
Now show me something.
Donnie adds a few of his own tricks, too. He asks the local dirt bike riders to pace him as he runs up the hill. And he falls for a local Philly girl just as Rocky did, but she is no shy Adrian.
Bianca (Tessa Thompson), the neighbor who always plays her music too loud, is an up and coming singer, as beautiful as she is ambitious. Her smile lights up the screen, and Donnie’s heart as well. She takes Donnie on a tour of Philly, showing him the life-sized sculpture of Rocky in front of the Museum of Art, and then is astonished when the real guy appears below her window to pick up Donnie, who calls him “Unc.” But she is less pleased when she finds out Donnie is not just the son of “a fighter,” but of Apollo Creed himself. She will brook no secrets and tells Donnie so.
In a world that worships elaborate set pieces, special effects, and nonstop action, how refreshing to see a film that washes itself in our humanity. Bianca, the rising music star, has progressive hearing loss. Donnie fights for an identity as much as victory in the ring. We see Rocky battling the melancholia of old age and loneliness. Adrian, Paulie, and his trainer Mickey are all dead and gone.
Everything I got has moved on and I’m here.
And even as he begins to reawaken as Donnie’s ringside mentor, Rocky gets a reminder that only Time is undefeated. Without giving too much away, I will say that some of Donnie’s training takes place in a hospital room.
Rocky may be down, but he’s not out. As Donnie does some pretty impressive push ups in the sterile cubicle, Rocky throws away a great line.
I did it with one hand, but I wasn't gonna say anything.
I won’t even go into the details of the big fight, but I will tell you what Rocky whispers into Donnie ear to keep him going:
Bring back everything that’s ever hurt you, all the pain you had inside. They don’t know what we’ve been through. You belong here!
A final scene has a winded Rocky walking up those iconic steps once again. He quips, “They must have added another flight,” but he makes it to the top.
The sentimental part of me wanted to hear the famous Rocky theme here once more, maybe a little muted, but still around, just like Rocky himself. The filmmakers probably made the right decision to leave it out, though. This is Donnie Creed’s movie, not Rocky’s. He is the next generation, the living legacy to two boxing greats.
But here it is anyway. A salute to Rocky and a franchise that that proves, "It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
Bianca (Tessa Thompson) cuts a path as unique as Donnie’s and Rockey’s. She defies her progressive hearing loss to pursue a singing career for as long as she is able. And her talents are considerable.
She doesn’t make any predictable choices when Donnie first asks her out for dinner, either. No white tablecloth and candle light for her. Bianca takes Donnie to a noisy and crowded dive, but one that makes the best Philly Cheesesteaks in the city.
Our recipe is from a Philly guy born in 1942 and he swears it is authentic. Maybe almost as good as my favorite, Italian Beef.
Authentic Philly Cheesesteak
I was born and raised in Philadelphia and this was my favorite lunch at the luncheonettes (sandwich shops). Places throughout the rest of the Country that claim to make Philly Cheese Steaks just do not get them to taste the same, and one of the reasons is that they do not use extra-virgin olive oil. Anyone who says that Pat's and Gino's in South Philly uses Cheez Wiz, is talking about the way they make it now. The old authentic way uses Provolone Cheese. Also, using deli roast beef is the same as using top round sliced wafer thin or frozen Rib-Eye roast shaved on an electric slicer. I was born in 1942 and this is the way they were made way back then. We are talking about authentic, not the way they are made now. If you make any changes with the ingredients or the directions, it will not be the same. Make it EXACTLY as written here.
1 loaf Italian bread or 1 loaf French bread or 2 large hoagie rolls or 2 large sub rolls
1⁄2 lb deli roast beef (very rare, sliced wafer thin, or you can use a frozen Rib-Eye roast shaved on an electric slicer, wh)
1 white onion (thinly sliced)
1 green bell pepper (thinly sliced) (optional)
2 teaspoons garlic (minced)
1⁄2 lb provolone cheese (thinly sliced)
Extra virgin olive oil (for grilling)
Salt and pepper
Heat a griddle or a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
When hot, cover bottom with olive oil.
Add the onions and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until carmelized, which will take about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and cook for about 30 seconds.
Then, push the mixture off to one side of the griddle.
Add the meat to the hot part of the griddle.
Cook, continuously flipping the meat over and slightly chopping the meat into slightly smaller pieces with 2 spatulas, until the meat is not pink, which should take about 2 minutes.
Mix the meat and the carmelized onions and bell pepper together.
Divide into 2 portions, and top both portions with the cheese to melt.
If using Italian or French bread, cut the bread in half, crosswise, and slice lengthwise to open for the 2 sandwiches.
Hollow out some of the soft white bread part from inside and place face down on top of the meat and cheese.
When the cheese is melted, and with 1 or 2 spatulas, flip the sandwiches over and add topping, such as marinara sauce or ketchup, if desired, and serve immediately.