Directed by | Ryan Coogler
Produced by | Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King-Templeton, Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay by | Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Starring | Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew
Run Time | 133 minutes
Certificate | 12
Plot | Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnson (Jordan) is the illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed. Drawn to the sport like his father before him, Donnie is determined to make it on his own, refusing to use his father’s name. Struggling to make headway, Johnson moves to Philadelphia and approaches his father’s old rival Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to train him.
Review | Round seven in the seemingly undefeatable Rocky franchise sees the ageing fighter pass the torch to a spirited relative newcomer. This statement rings true for both Sylvester Stallone and Rocky Balboa.
It has been a decade since Rocky Balboa graced the silver screen. The surprise hit was a solid rebound from the torrid Rocky V that had nearly put the series out for the count in 1990. Now, not only is the franchise back in business, but it is reinvigorated – and even poised to potentially launch an entirely new one.
This reinvigoration can be attributed to many things, but principly it falls at the feet at director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Black Panther), lead actor Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Fantastic Four) and cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Between them, they have crafted a sports drama that’s a compelling riff on retreaded ground.
There are plenty of parallels between Creed and the original Rocky movie. There would be certainly too many too list, and this would also be doing the film a disservice. This is not a tired franchise scraping the barrel and becoming self-parody, but a conscious changing of the guard, done so in such a way to pay tribute to the original magic without outright copying.
The plot is simple enough – Johnson wants to be a big time boxer, but is reluctant to use his parentage to get him ahead. This is a complex young man that is as equally driven to make it on his own as he is intrigued by the spectre his father left. In lesser hands, this could have been cheesy and rote, but Jordan nuanced performance is thankfully enough to allay any fear of this.
Realising that he won’t make it to the big time without training, Johnson moves to Philadelphia and seeks out the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. Initially reluctant to take on the trainer role, the ex-champion agrees to give the youngster a few tips and sends him on his way. Balboa eventually relents and ends up training Johnson to some early success. This success leads to a showdown against an undefeated champion (real life boxer Tony Bellew).
While the plot may feel familiar, there’s plenty to see and praise here. In addition to Jordan, the cast is pretty good from top to bottom. Stallone puts in a wonderfully restrained performance – his Rocky really does seem like a lonely man who has seen all his friends pass before him. It’s his best performance for years. A shoutout should also go to Tessa Thompson, who plays singer-songwriter Bianca. In a role that could have been forgettable, she takes a well written part and puts in a subtle, somewhat realistic performance.
One of Creed’s overriding strengths is that it is somewhat realistic. Besides a little Hollywood fluff dotted here and there from dramatisation, the character interaction feels genuine. The verisimilitude is strengthened by the use of real life fighters (Bellew is joined by Andre Ward and Gabriel Rosado), fight celebrities (esteemed cutman Jacob Duran plays himself, as does trainer Ricardo McGill), and television presenters (ESPN, SportsCenter, and HBO staff all make an appearance). Combining these with a tight script, down-to-earth direction and some inspired cinematography (one complete fight is shown in a single take) make this a truly memorable, (somewhat) believable event.
The Verdict | If it looked out for the count with Rocky V, the franchise regained its feet with Rocky Balboa and has just nailed a potentially winning combination with Creed. To call it a worthy continuation of the classic franchise would be to do it a slight disservice – Creed is a cracking film in its own right, and would be deserving of its own sequels.