Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone & Tessa Thompson
Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a tariner and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
Rating: 12A Duration: 133 minutes Release date: 16 May (UK)
It’s been 40 years since Rocky Balboa first appeared on the silver screen and ten since his last appearance brought him out of retirement for one last shot at glory. The films, much like Rocky himself, have seen ups and downs over the years, but the series has always managed to pick itself up ready for another round, no matter how much the odds are against it.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Rocky has had such long legs. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog story and Rocky is surely the biggest underdog story of them all. But still, it’s been four decades since the Italian Stallion first went 12 rounds with Apollo Creed; a man who started as an opponent and later became one of his dearest friends.
It’s this relationship between the two that gels the previous six Rocky films to this new direction, where we follow Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis Johnson. Adonis has spent the best part of his early years moving from one youth detention centre to another. That is until Mary Ann Creed, Apollo’s wife, turns up and tells Adonis of his true heritage.
The first 20 minutes of the film are arguably its weakest. Director Ryan Coogler takes his time to set things up and whilst it is understandable given there is a lot of back story to get through, it never really gets going until we have an understanding of our characters and what motivates them.
Despite the slow start, Creed does pick up. This is due in no small part to the easy charm of its star Michael B. Jordan. Jordan is cementing himself as one the best young actors around and he manages to carry the film on his considerable shoulders. Given that he is sharing the screen with Sylvester Stallone makes it even more remarkable.
Sylvester Stallone created his finest character when he birthed Rocky and he remains as likeable here as he did back in 1976. Yes he’s older and should probably be as far away from a boxing ring as possible, but the two go hand in hand and his timeless appeal lends the film a dignity that carries the film into the 21st century.
Johnson and Balboa represent the old and the new of both boxing and film making. Coogler knows this and has fun playing on the differences between the two generations. There’s a great interplay between the two characters and they share a bond that seems real and genuine and you really feel that the two grow to care immensely for each other over the films duration.
This also stretches to Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring musician who lives in the same apartment block as Adonis. Their relationship starts off hesitant, but it blossoms, again, into something that feels real. Jordan and Thompson share a chemistry and a relationship that seems that rare thing in a film; true.
Coogler’s direction is growing with each film he makes. He manages to grasp what makes the Rocky series so enjoyable while adding a modern feel to Creed. His scenes in and out of the ring are gripping, with relationships being formed and broken while the all important training montage is as exciting as in any previous Rocky film. There’s a uniqueness to the in-ring scenes that should make viewers feel dizzy, but instead it draws you closer into the action making you feel every punch and wince at every bit of blood spilt.
As a successor to the Rocky films, Creed does a extraordinary job. So natural and accomplished does it feel, that you don’t stop to imagine how bad this could have turned out. Rather, you forget that this is the seventh film in a series and instead of showing signs of fatigue, it now feels completely re-energised and ready to move on with a contemporary lead as its star.