A decade has passed since the last film in the legendary ‘Rocky’ franchise, but now the Italian Stallion is back in ‘Creed’. Thankfully, Sylvester Stallone is reprising his role in just a trainer capacity and isn’t returning to the squared circle himself. The series spin-off centres around Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, the fighter who went toe-to-toe with Rocky in the first two films back in the late seventies. The project is written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who made his filmmaking breakthrough with Fruitvale Station in 2013, and follows Donnie as he pursues a career in boxing but struggles with the pressure of his father’s legacy.
If you are a Rocky fan and are hoping for more of the same, you won’t be disappointed, only now it is delivered with a modern, urban edge. The predictability of the plotting can be as painful as some of the punches thrown, especially with regards to the love interest subplot. On the plus side, the training montages make a gloriously triumphant return and there are genuine moments of nostalgic greatness. Coogler directs the fight sequences with control and invention, utilising the on-trend technique of the long single take circling the competitors. This helps to ramp up the ringside atmosphere and makes for a highly entertaining finale as Donnie takes on cocky Scouse warrior ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan.
‘Creed’ marks the first time that Sylvester Stallone hasn’t taken on writing or directing duties on top of the acting itself, and it really works to the film’s benefit as he gives a knockout performance. He plays it with charm and charisma, but manages to express how time has taken its toll on Rocky, in particular the loneliness he suffers from without his beloved wife Adrian. Stallone works well with Michael B. Jordan, who is also excellent, bringing attitude and youthfulness to the role, and the pair strike up a bond that is fascinating to watch develop.
Despite not having Rocky’s name emblazoned in the title of the movie, ‘Creed’ is very much part of the franchise in its structure and style and is a natural progression for the story. Coogler refreshes and rejuvenates for the modern era, breathing new life into the tried and tested formula through a new hero in Michael B. Jordan. It is also the best work I’ve seen from Stallone in years, reminding us that beneath the bravado there is acting talent which deserves recognition. The bell has been rung at the end of the seventh round but if it anything to go by, I’d happily see it go the distance.