When a franchise reaches its seventh film, it is frequently terrible – another picture churned out by a limping behemoth that should have been stopped. The sixth Rocky film, 2006’s decided average Rocky Balboa, forced a too-old Rocky out of retirement to face yet another fight, and suggested that the franchise should maybe be put out to pasture. Fortunately, Creed is the best Rocky film in years – a wonderfully acted and gripping boxing movie that will delight newcomers and fans of the original alike.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of famous boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. He has boxing in his blood, and feels the need to fight – eager to be the best he can, he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks the retired champ to be his trainer. Rocky sees a lot of Apollo in Adonis, and agrees to mentor him and help him reach his full potential, ignoring his own issues as he does. Adonis soon gets a shot in a title fight, but must overcome his own doubts to see if he truly has the heart of a fighter.
Creed owes a lot to the original Rocky film, and pays a number of homages to that movie – obviously the appearance of Balboa and references to Creed (played by Carl Weathers, appearing in the first four films of the series), but much more besides. One of Rocky’s training methods is encouraging Adonis to catch a chicken, Rocky and Adonis take a trip up a familiar set of stairs, Rocky’s restaurant is called ‘Adrian’s,’ an iconic music cue or two are reprised when Adonis is in the ring – indeed, the story follows a lot of the same beats.
A film that invites the weight of such nostalgia is at pains to not drown in it – to be its own beast but to be faithful to those who love the original – and it is a balancing act that Creed manages wonderfully. Indeed, it is somewhat amusing that the film deals with a newbie trying to make his own way while living with a legacy when it is much of the same story for the film itself.
Jordan here is very charismatic, and he convincingly portrays both the charismatic flamboyance of Apollo Creed as well as the insecurity, and he is a very likeable leading man who you want to succeed (especially seeing as Tony Bellew (a Liverpudlian boxer in his acting debut) imbues ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan with a fair amount of intense menace). Phylicia Rashid gets little screen time as Adonis’ mother, and Tessa Thompson as musician and love interest Bianca is fun and charming, bringing a lot of character to a role that could be massively underwritten.
The show here does really belong to Stallone, though. With the amount of action crap that Stallone puts out, it’s easy to forget that he is more than slurred delivery and muscles. No, the man can act, and this is possibly his best performance to date (that he did not write the dialogue here, giving himself more time to sink into the character, is possibly one reason for it). This is a Rocky who has surrendered himself to loss – he exudes Rocky’s sense of decency and nobility as Adonis’ mentor, but tinges it with a touch of raw pain, such that he really makes you feel.
I wouldn’t have ever thought that Stallone could make me feel – his supporting turn here is a revelation.
It plays to the emotional beats, but it also excels as a boxing film. One fight is shot in a long take, emphasising that the world of the ring is the entirety of Adonis’ world at that moment, and it is gripping. There is a whole stock of kinetic energy that makes these fights incredibly exciting – it feels like watching an actual boxing match, and as a non-sports fan, it is every bit as engrossing as I imagine sport can be.
Creed is not a movie I expected to enjoy as much as I did – I’m a big fan of Rocky, and I imagined that this film was going to be a naff knock-off that did a disservice to the original. Instead, Creed touches on the original affectionately, and is a great boxing film that boasts knock-out performances (I’m sorry) by Jordan and Stallone. It is nothing particularly new, and it is perhaps a bit longer than it should be, but it serves up its familiar clichés wonderfully.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Andre Ward (Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler), Tony Bellew (‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan)
Running Time: 133 Mins
Image credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/creed/review/