Michael B. Jordan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Adonis "Donny" Johnson in Creed.
Adonis's struggle as a character is a rather peculiar one technically speaking in that even though he had a hard early childhood, his later adoption by Apollo's wife left him rather well off. However that does not leave a certain chip on his shoulder as he's still has his past, though he is not likely to quickly find sympathy due to his present standing. Jordan has a challenge for us to even care about Adonis's story of trying to make it as a professional boxer, considering it is not exactly his only option as it sort of was for Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) in the original 1976 film. This film is smart enough to point that out, but in the end both Rocky and Adonis wish to prove something. Where Rocky's struggle was based on proving he was not just a washed up bum never worth anything, Adonis's struggle on the other hand is prove himself not to be seen blemish on his father's record. With this Jordan carries this certain intensity with his own presence that is incredibly well handled by him, especially when compared to another boxing performance from 2015, that being Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw as Billy Hope. Now in this case neither man is suppose to be a Jake Lamotta sort, that being a vicious thug at heart, yet both have moments where their temper gets the best of them.
With Gyllenhaal he basically indicated Billy Hope as basically a calm guy except when the script decided that he needed to be angry, and it's made worse that his anger issues are resolved completely off screen in that film. Jordan makes this much more of constant, but not in that he technically has serious anger problems. What Jordan does have is that intensity, a certain fire in Adonis, that's always there to some capacity, as though it is not only ingrained from his past, but also only exacerbated by being reminded of his father's legacy. In the moments where his father is brought up to mock him Jordan shows the way the intensity moves in a negative fashion. There's even a slight aggression he brings when it seems like there is mention of the man. Jordan is excellent by showing this as Adonis raising his defenses in the moment. He naturally wavers though if the issue is not pushed, however when it is, Jordan is terrific in portraying it almost as an instinctual reaction from Adonis when reminded of heritage. Jordan importantly keeps this as the very specifically attached to when and only when Apollo in mentioned. Jordan reveals so well this considerable vulnerability intertwined with the idea of his father, and so well paints the relationship with his father throughout his life, despite the fact that he never even met his father.
Jordan remarkably is able to carry the father/son connection into the ring, which is pivotal for his character here. The reason for his drive to fight is never in question, and Jordan makes an absolute sense to it. He is able to make this part of his performance even in the fight scenes. In these moments he channels the intensity once again though in this time a way that works with him instead of against him. In the fight, the will to find that connection with his father is even present, as the passion of the fights is that of man living up to being the man he feels he must be to be his father's son. Now what's great about Jordan's work is that he does not allow this idea to override his performance. This is an essential part of Adonis in Jordan's performance, but he never allows it to control Adonis completely. When his father and the fights are not in the topic of direct discussion Adonis is a pretty normal guy. On this note Jordan is charming in his role, but I should note not in the same way that Weathers was in that original film. Weathers was a guy who could control a room with his charm, Donny does not have the experience and it is fitting that Jordan is not so larger than life. The charm though is there, and really Jordan allows for the idea that perhaps given time and experience he could be the showman his father was.
Jordan is particularly likable here and there are some memorable moments in his performance that might even seem minor, yet work because he makes them so genuine. I particularly love his enthusiasm about hearing his chance to take on the world champ. His charm perhaps best shown in his scenes with Adonis's love interest, a singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Now of course Rocky had his relationship with Adrian at the center of the film as well, though the one in Creed plays out a bit differently as Bianca has already come to terms with condition, in this case degenerative hearing disorder. Jordan and Thompson are splendid together as they even manage to work through the standard romantic couple starter where they meet through an unpleasant circumstance. They do not dwell on the idea importantly, but even get through that in a natural fashion that ends up working just fine for the springboard for their relationship. This does not get as much focus I would say as the romance in the original Rocky, nevertheless it gives Jordan a chance to be quite endearing striking up with Thompson a very believable connection between the two. I actually really like that they do not necessarily even make this the match made in heaven, what the two do is a convincing depiction of two people coming together.
As in the original Rocky there is a keen focus on the relationship between the boxer and his trainer. Well Donny gets the chance to train with Rocky himself. As I mentioned in Stallone's review, he and Jordan are great together. They play off each other so well with Stallone as Rocky being his usual low key self, while Jordan is properly much more energetic on his side of things. The two have a great comedic chemistry just in small little moments through Jordan's outgoing manner that clashes perfectly against Rocky taking things one at a time as usual. The two do not leave it as just a funny odd couple though as they do indeed move past that. Jordan and Stallone both are able to build the warmth between the two quite naturally, as it is wonderfully informal as sorts. The two become like family through there interactions as Rocky trains Donny to professionally box. The tested moment, when Rocky receives more terrible news, is a heartbreaking scene due to both performances. Jordan is great by placing the warmth of Adonis right upfront showing just how much their uncle/nephew relationship has meant to him. When he is rebuffed in the moment by Rocky, Jordan is so moving in his subtle portrayal of Donny falling apart internally from being abandoned yet again. When Donny and Rocky come back together it not only is completely earned the two only strengthen the relationship further. One of the highlights of the film is the two of them slowly getting up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. At this point Jordan and Stallone have made Donny and Rocky family through only the course of the film and create such a poignancy in having the two reach the top together. Jordan like Donny certainly gets important support from the old champ, while having to contend with another champ. Jordan lives up to Weather's memorable work through his own performance, not by copying what Weathers did, but finding his own path, making Adonis a character who does indeed stand out on his own accord.