Running Time: 133 minutes
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad and Anthony Bellew
“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated. “
FORTY years ago Sylvester Stallone gave us Rocky, the Oscar-winning boxing drama that became a definitive underdog story within cinema’s rich history; its plot about a small-time boxer who defied the odds spawned five further sequels, some better than others and created the ‘Rocky Rule’ which has been replicated in other movies ever since. Now writer/director Ryan Coogler returns to the world Stallone created with Creed, a film that serves as both a further instalment within the franchise, but also a pseudo reboot.
Like many viewers I thought I’d seen the last of the Italian Stallion with 2006’s Rocky Balboa; a film that felt like a fitting swansong for Stallone’s iconic creation which taught us that life wasn’t about how hard you got hit, it was about how hard you could get hit and keep moving forward! So to say I was rather sceptical about this latest instalment would be a bit of an understatement, especially when Stallone wasn’t even involved in a writing capacity; but I needn’t have worried because Coogler’s feature is a real knock.
Picking up several years after the events of the previous film, Creed switches it focus from Balboa onto Michael B. Jordan’s character Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnston; a troubled young man and the illegitimate son of Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed. Donnie doesn’t want to spend his life working in a mundane office job, but wants to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional boxer. He quits his job and heads to Philadelphia to seek out his father’s greatest opponent, in the hope that the former World Heavyweight Champion will help train him.
Once there he meets a Rocky who has turned his back on his profession, his wife and brother-in-law now deceased and a son that wants nothing to do with him; he lives a largely solitary life, spending his days running his Italian restaurant and visiting the graves of his deceased loved ones. Initially he’s reluctant to return to that world, but he’s eventually persuaded to step into the ‘Micky’ role and train Donnie. It works really well here within this movie, much better than when Stallone himself tried to do something similar in Rocky V, but thankfully there’s no mention of Tommy Gunn whatsoever.
At its core this is a film about two boxers at very differing stages, not just in their careers but their lives; Adonis is a talented young boxer ready to take on the world, determined to prove he’s not a mistake and worthy to fight under the name Creed. Rocky on the other hand has come to accept his career is over, but now he’s facing an even greater and more personal battle outside the ring.
Creed throws a lot of similar punches to the first Rocky movie, a talented young boxer entering into fight he has seemingly no hope of winning, but determined to prove his worth inside the ring. There’s also echoes of Rocky and Adrian’s relationship with a blossoming romance between Adonis and Tessa Thompson’s character Bianca, a young musician who’s slowly losing her hearing. The film works best though when it feels more like a Rocky sequel rather than an outright reboot; there are some truly poignant moments between the two boxers throughout the movie as they train together, particularly in the closing moments as they climb the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The important aspect of any boxing movie is of course the action within the ring itself and in true Rocky style the boxing is so wonderfully over-the-top, with boxers landing heavy blow after heavy blow. The camerawork is choreographed to near perfection; much like David O. Russell’s Oscar winning drama The Fighter, it feels like the camera is dancing in between the two boxers as they fight within the ring.
I was genuinely surprised just how much I enjoyed Creed; it’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking, featuring two solid central performances by both Stallone and Jordan, it handles the passing of the boxing gloves from one fighter to another perfectly. Some viewers may feel it’s merely a rehash of the original , but there’s enough differences within in it to just about deflect that criticism, this is after all a boxing drama and it’s somewhat harder to find originality within that specific genre; this isn’t Star Wars after all, were they had an entire universe to play with. Importantly it remains true to the spirit of Stallone’s creation as it successfully brings the Rocky franchise out of retirement to fight another day.