Regrettably, an entire generation knows actor Carl Weathers only as Adam Sandler’s one-armed mentor Chubbs Peterson in the classic 1996 golf comedy “Happy Gilmore.”
But the former NFL linebacker’s first and most iconic film role began 20 years earlier as Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) white whale: reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who figured prominently in the first four “Rocky” films and, if DNA matters, I suppose this seventh one, as well. Creed’s illegitimate and estranged son, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), is now sporting the familiar red, white and blue shorts.
When underground weekend bouts no longer satisfy the financial analyst, Johnson walks away from it all. He moves from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to persuade Balboa, now a retired boxer-turned-restauranteur — his joint is called “Adrian’s,” after his wife, which, unless your customers are canines, sounds a lot more appetizing than “The Italian Stallion” — to take him under his wing. Rocky’s reluctant, of course, but comes around, and the rest of the story pretty much maps to the original. Par for reboots.
The thing is, if you’ve seen just about any of his films, you might be left with the impression that Stallone is not a good actor. Which is why “Creed” is so satisfying. Aside from 1997’s “Cop Land,” it is probably his best performance and may earn the franchise king (“Rocky,” “Rambo,” “Expendables”) his first Oscar. Here, he is grizzled but not punch-drunk. Introspective (“Time takes everyone out, time is undefeated”), not bantering. He is more Miyagi than Mickey.
For his part, Jordan sports the protégé role well. The “Fruitvale Station” star is genuine, not a boxing caricature.
The writing is unspectacular and while there are a few callbacks to the franchise (Rocky borrows Mickey’s old trick of making Adonis, or “Hollywood Donnie,” as he’s come to be called, try to catch live chickens), there are few surprises.
Perhaps most remarkable is the fight scene cinematography, which takes full advantage of the big screen and surround sound delivering an experience that is extraordinary.
The tired joke goes, “Old boxers never die, they just lose their punch,” but in “Creed,” the Rocky franchise is reborn, and Stallone literally goes the distance.