Directed By: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, and Tony Bellew
I have to admit that I was baffled when I learned that Ryan Coogler was directing Creed.  After all, the breakout director of Fruitvale Station delving into the seventh act of the Rocky Balboa saga for his second feature film isn't a career move that makes a whole lot of sense at first glance.  This is especially true when you consider the fact that the aging Sylvester Stallone's last several film credits include Grudge Match, Zookeeper, and The Expendables 3.  With this in mind, I had rather low expectations for the film.  Having now seen Creed, I can say that these expectations were shattered in the first five minutes of this darkly thrilling sports drama that takes the Rocky franchise in a bold, new direction.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the youngest son of the late larger-than-life boxer Apollo Creed. Born out of wedlock from an affair, Adonis has had a hard life.  Orphaned when his mother passed away, Apollo's widow Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) takes the boy under her wing and offers him a better life.  She helps Adonis find a good job in the corporate arena and build a life that has nothing to do with getting into the squared circle.  Without anyone knowing who he is or his true parentage, however, Adonis lives in the shadow of the father he's never known.  Boxing is calling Adonis, and he decides to answer.  He won’t take the Creed name, however, as he wants to build his own name.

Against the wishes of Mary Anne, Adonis quits his job and heads over to Micky's Gym to try and get himself in shape for professional boxing.  Recognizing that Apollo wouldn't want his son in the ring unless he had to be, they won't help him.  That's when Adonis decides to go to Adrian's and seek the help of the Italian Stallion, the legendary Rocky Balboa (Stallone).  Though it takes some convincing, Adonis successfully gets Rocky in his corner to help him begin building a legacy of his own in the ring.  One step, one punch, and one round at a time, Adonis transforms himself into the future of the boxing sport.  World champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) takes notice.  Meanwhile, he meets an up-and-coming singer named Bianca (Tessa Thompson) who is trying to take her music career to the next level.  Romance ensues.

A knockout from the opening credits, Creed surpassed every expectation I had for it.  Ryan Coogler rises to the occasion in his second feature film and delivers one compelling boxing drama.  Bringing an undeniable gravitas to a franchise that has arguably lost some of its swagger in recent decades, Coogler's Creed has much more dramatic heft than other recent installments in the Rocky franchise.  Leveraging the comedic talents of Sylvester Stallone with this in mind, Coogler cuts the tension with plenty of comic relief.  Finally, he adds the right amount of nostalgia with Easter eggs and archival footage throughout the film.

Of all the things that Coogler does well throughout the film, he builds some incredible suspense.  This is something crucial in any sports drama to build the contests at hand. In the case of Creed, you can see it in the physicality of each of the match-ups.  You can hear it in the thunderous score roaring away at big moments.  You can feel it thanks to the furious pace at which Coogler executes key scenes in the film, particularly the brutal ones.  It all makes Adonis's training and competition in Creed that much more impactful and serves as another sure sign that Coogler is one to watch in years to come.

The cast is pitch perfect throughout the movie.  Michael B. Jordan erases the sins of Fantastic Four and That Awkward Moment.  Reuniting with Coogler once again, Jordan digs deep from that same inner well that fueled his performance as Oscar Grant two years ago.  Putting his heart into this, Jordan gives a physically and emotionally taxing performance as Adonis Johnson, boxing royalty with a chip on his shoulder.  We also have Sylvester Stallone reprising his signature role as Rocky Balboa for a seventh time.  With the Stallone brand of humor in full effect, the action star brings an old school swagger to the role and infuses the film with much of its comic relief.  For her part as Bianca, Dear White People and Selma star Tessa Thompson brings a warmth and an energy to the film that's undeniable.  As Jordan's on-screen romantic interest, she elevates the movie whenever she's on camera.  Lastly, Phylicia Rashad delivers a delightful supporting performance as Apollo Creed's widow and a surrogate mother for Adonis.

Again, Creed surpassed any expectations I had, and most of the credit for that goes to Ryan Coogler who has just reinvigorated the Rocky franchise.  Full of heart and laughter, this young director's second outing in this riveting sports drama is mainstream filmmaking at its best.  Creed gets a sober rating.  After you get over your food coma from turkey, check this one out.  Happy Thanksgiving STMR readers!