Getting a movie sequel right is difficult. Most times they are failures (see, for example, the very funny film The Hangover and then its two sour, laugh-deficient sequels). It's even more difficult when it's the seventh, and probably last, in a series that began almost 40 years ago.
THC enjoyed the first Rocky (1976). It was also the last he'd seen in a theater though he'd caught parts of most of the sequels on cable. Having read a couple of favorable reviews he decided to see Creed. He can report back that it is a very fine film, providing a satisfying conclusion to the series.
It turns out that the late Apollo Creed, Rocky's rival and then friend, had an illegitimate son, born after Apollo's death in Rocky IV (1985). Bounced among foster homes the troubled Adonis is tracked down while in juvenile detention by Apollo's widow (Phylicia Rashad) and raised by her in a comfortable house in Los Angeles. Though doing well in business, the young adult Adonis Creed is still full of anger and takes amateur fights across the border in Tijuana to work off his aggression. Announcing to his mother his dissatisfaction with the business career path, he quits his job and heads off to Philadelphia to become a professional boxer and to meet the now nearly 70-year old Rocky who is still running the restaurant named after his late wife.
Are there predictable elements in the movie? Yes, but everyone involved made some very smart choices in both the casting and the path of the story. Michael B Jordan is excellent as Adonis, struggling with his emotions. Tessa Thompson plays his girl friend but it is not just a role as "the girl"; she's an interesting character in her own right, portrayed with an interesting mix of strength and tenderness. We stuck around to watch the credits so we could catch the name of the actress who so impressed us. And, of course, we have Sylvester Stallone who, after all these years, simply inhabits the character of Rocky. It's a wonderful performance stripped of the cartoonish mannerisms which marred some the middle Rocky films.
The story carefully navigates the treacherous waters of all sequels and avoids going maudlin. When there are choices in plot direction the film often avoids the obvious while still hitting all the right notes consistent with the best aspects of the series. And it successfully gets to port with an ending that is perfect and will touch anyone who saw the original film so long ago.
Oh, and the fight scenes? Among the best THC has ever seen. You can feel the blows. The cinematography and editing are excellent. The film looks great.