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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Creed

(M) ★★★★

Director: Ryan Coogler.

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Tony Bellew.

"What about Throw Momma From The Train? Can we reboot that one?"
YOU can’t keep a good fighter down.

And while many would have been happy for cinema’s greatest boxer Rocky Balboa to stay down after the surprising success of his self-titled and sixth film nine years ago, you’ll be glad he got back up off the canvas for a seventh round.

To be fair though, this is not Rocky’s fight. It’s a passing of the torch, or gloves as it were, to Adonis Johnson aka the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s opponent in the first two films of the series (and friend in the third and fourth).

“Baby Creed” - played by Michael B Jordan (Chronicle, Fantastic Four) - is a troubled young man who didn’t know his father but is drawn to Apollo’s legacy and the world of boxing.

After a promising start to his pugilistic career but with a temper in danger of landing him in trouble, the young Adonis packs in his job as an accountant to follow his boxing dreams.

He moves from LA to Philadelphia, tracks down Rocky (Stallone, of course) and begins training, hiding the fact he’s Apollo Creed’s son from everyone but Rocky.


So far, so formulaic, and on paper this looks like an uncalled-for cash-grab; a desperate attempt to restart the franchise. But the reality is this is one of the best films of the Rocky series – one worthy of the championship belt.

Creed is filled with the rich history of its predecessors but is not weighed down by it. Perhaps its greatest feat is walking the line between the old and the new – fans of the series will be well rewarded, but newcomers will find this a great starting point to the saga.

The film is totally Adonis’, and therefore Jordan’s, but it does a great job of valuing and honouring Rocky, and therefore Stallone.

Jordan’s performance is outstanding, both in terms of the physicality and the dramatic requirements. He owns a tough role that is constructed almost entirely in the shadows – not only of his character’s father, but of Stallone, of Balboa, and of the Rocky legacy. That he doesn’t buckle under all that weight while comfortably creating a new character is something to be applauded.

But as much as this film is about Adonis, the real star of the show is Stallone. A best supporting actor Oscar nomination beckons. After seven films, Rocky is a comfy pair of slippers for him, but in the transition from ageing fighter to “loveable uncle”, he adds new depth and new dimensions to the character that is the best display of Stallone’s talents since Cop Land.

Coogler, directing his own script, is the quiet achiever here. He gives both Adonis and Rocky good arcs, and you can see the screenplay is the real difference between this being a cheap knock-off and the real deal. But he also handles the action well. The film’s middle fight – a one-take, two-round sizzler – is masterfully done, as is the way he builds momentum in the final bout.

The flaws are few but are really no fault of the film’s. There is nothing truly new here – no surprise given this is Rocky VII – and you can spot the story’s beats from a mile away, which takes some of the punch (ahem) out of proceedings.

There is also a fine line between melodrama and real heart, and which side Creed falls on may well depend on your frame of mind when you step in the ring. Similarly, it’s humourless/serious approach skews toward self-parody, something amplified by the over-the-top and unbelievable nature of the climactic bout.

But Creed has the potential to win you over if you let it. The injection of new blood, dealt with intelligently, makes for an enjoyable new story in the Rocky saga, aided in no small way by Jordan, Coogler and, dare it be said, a career-best turn from Stallone.

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