SYNOPSIS: As the illegitimate son of former Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is determined to follow in his late father’s footsteps by becoming a fighter. After arriving in Philadelphia, he manages to track down Apollo’s former opponent-turned-friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and seeks his help in training him. Rocky eventually agrees and soon the pair undergo a hardworking regime that also allows them to bond. However when Adonis’ real identity is revealed, he gets given the opportunity to prove himself in the ring by fighting current Heavyweight champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew).
For many film fans, it’s hard to believe that it’s been forty years since Rocky Balboa made his cinematic debut. For Sylvester Stallone, the universal success of Rocky (1976) came from its crowd-pleasing rags to riches story that ultimately helped him become a worldwide superstar. But while the Rocky sequels didn’t quite capture the spirit of the original, they still remained pivotal in making the series one of the most iconic in cinematic history. So when Creed was first announced, some felt that it was just another paycheck for Stallone and co. especially after the way the series was brought to a satisfying end in Rocky Balboa (2006)
Thankfully, Creed is every bit as crowd-pleasing as Rocky was just as Star Wars: The Force Awakens was to its own franchise predecessors and this is mostly down to the hardworking craft of writer and director Ryan Coogler. In what is only his second main feature, the talented filmmaker does an exceptional job of breathing new life into a story that would have seemed pointless but ends up being one of the unlikely cinematic success stories of recent years.
Once again, boxing is the main theme but it’s the human drama that we familiarise ourselves with as we see Adonis and Rocky both going through personal traumas throughout. For Adonis, we know full well that he never got to meet his father given Apollo’s tragic fate in Rocky IV but his determination to carry on the Creed legacy is explored effectively. As for the Italian Stallion, we have seen him experience so much pain and devastation over the course of the Rocky franchise but the opportunity of having him work alongside a young man who can be classed as ‘family’ gives him every reason to return to the sport he truly loves.
The first meeting between the two is one of several great moments in the film that give fans the nostalgic feeling particularly the references made to former outings like the unofficial third fight that took place between Rocky and Apollo in Rocky III. Some of the gentle humour is there too with Rocky being left confused by Adonis’ mention of the ‘iCloud’ in a hilarious exchange that demonstrates the difference between the duo’s generations. The training montages are also included albeit with a change of musical style as Ludwig Goransson incorporates modern touches of hip hop to his energetic soundtrack. However there are still brief moments where the original film’s iconic theme appear in scenes involving Rocky as well as the climatic fight.
Creed also benefits from being the most technically impressive installment of the series with Coogler placing his trust in female cinematographer Maryse Alberti. She captures the realistic fight scenes immaculately with the standout moment coming from a dazzling sequence where Adonis takes on an opponent all in one take. Another artistic highlight comes earlier on when Adonis watches Youtube footage of his father fighting Rocky and attempts to mimic his jabs. However from a biased perspective, it’s fantastic to see Everton FC play a key role in the film particularly in the climatic sequence as Adonis and Ricky Conlan engage in a brutal fight inside a very-packed Goodison Park.
On the performance front, Michael B. Jordan continues to show great promise in his role as Adonis as he anchors the film and creates a relatable character who will hopefully continue to excel should a Creed sequel be made. Another newbie to shine is Tessa Thompson who is delightful as Adonis’ neighbour-turned-lover Bianca. While the pair’s chemistry lacks the emotional spark of what Rocky and Adrian had in the original films, their relationship will hopefully be explored deeper in the next installment. It’s also worth mentioning Tony Bellew’s contribution as the snarling Conlan in a role that should strengthen his reputation with non-Liverpudlian boxing fans.
However the biggest praise in the cast deservedly goes to the great Sylvester Stallone who makes a heart-warming comeback as the Italian Stallion himself. Even though he has played the character on multiple occasions beforehand, Stallone has great chemistry with Jordan but also carries more emotional depth here which eventually leads to a devastating revelation that could make the sternest of men shed a tear. After his recent Golden Globe win, it would be incredible to see him go on to win the Oscar for playing an iconic character that has been loved by so many generations of filmgoers
In the end, Creed holds its own as a nostalgic love letter to Rocky fans but is also a compelling sports drama with knockout performances that will hopefully be back for more rounds in the future.