The best Rocky film since Rocky.
Back in 1976, a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in a film about a struggling boxer named Rocky Balboa, and thus a legend was born. Fast forward 40 years and it is time to pass the mantle along with Creed, a sequel/spin-off which brings the Rocky legacy to a new generation. It was a risky move – Stallone brought the franchise to a suitable conclusion a decade ago with a sixth film, Rocky Balboa (2006) after increasingly diminishing returns – but Creed strikes the perfect balance between old and new.
Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who’s debut Fruitvale Station (2013) won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and starring rising star Michael B Jordan (who also led Fruitvale Station) as Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of late Heavyweight Champion Apollo. Adonis ‘Donny’ is raised by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) in LA but makes his way to Philadelphia to pursue boxing and ask Rocky to be his trainer. Donny must then learn to deal with the legacy of his name as he takes on current Heavyweight Champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew – a real-life boxer) in a once in a lifetime showdown.
The plot could have been generic, but Coogler and Aaron Covington have written the characters with obvious love for the franchise, but also a desire to take things in a new direction. The Rocky we see in this film is not the legend of the past – his beloved wife and best friend have both passed away, he is all but estranged from his son, his own health is flailing and he has turned his back on boxing. Whilst Donny is at the centre, the films theme of living with a name also branches out to the Italian Stallion, who is human and vulnerable. With such an action-orientated career, it is easy to forget that Stallone can act, but Coogler has drawn out the best from the actor, who delivers a Golden Globe winning performance that packs a real emotional punch.
Michael B Jordan also looks and acts the part as Donny, a young man struggling to come out from under the shadow of a father he never knew. Whilst it would be a stretch to say that Donny has a particularly memorable personality, Jordan hits all the right notes in terms of the characters anger and insecurities. The father-son bond that emerges between Balboa and Creed is the beating heart of the entire film, and it likely to bring a lump to the throat of even the franchises toughest fans.
Another thing Coogler has got resoundingly right is Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Donny’s neighbor and eventual girlfriend. Bianca, a singer with progressive hearing loss, is a character in her own right and has dreams and ambitions just as strong and important as Donny’s, something which is extremely rare to see in a sports/boxing movie, where women are generally just one-note love interests (see Rachel McAdam’s character in last years Southpaw for a recent example). Thompson is brilliant as the character, finding and settling on the area where strength and vulnerability meet.
Whilst Creed is a film that thrives on its characters, they are not the only strong element. All the ingredients for a classic Rocky film are present, from a great score from Fruitvale Station’s composer Ludwig Goransson, who has channeled 1970s influences and Bill Conti’s iconic original score to create something new, to not one but multiple training montages (the last of which is literally breathtaking). We also get to see those ‘Rocky’ steps as a final reminder that this is a film that knows and loves its roots.
The visuals are also great, particularly the fight scenes. One early fight is filmed in one continuous take, whilst the camera is rarely static. The obligatory final fight is an exhilarating watch that’ll have you on the edge of your seat throughout, and it is clear why boxing is regarded as one of the most cinematic sports, you feel every blow and the Coogler mixes intense long takes with sharp hits to create something that is a real experience to watch.
Creed is not a film to be missed – be you a steadfast and loyal fan of the franchise or a newcomer, it is everything that a boxing film should be and more, with fully realised characters, intense action and just the right amount of nostalgia, Coogler has delivered a knockout.