Satisfied with having concluded the boxing legend with 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”, Sylvester Stallone took some convincing to return to the ring again. Good job, then, that Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler was so persistent because “Creed” is not only a wonderful return to the big screen for Philadelphia’s favourite pugilist but it also brings one of cinema’s most venerable franchises right up to date, putting it on a strong footing for the future.
It’s a quirk of film history that the “Rocky” series has both defined the concept of a series outstaying its welcome with a sequel too far as well as the more recent trend of long-in-the-tooth franchises reviving and reinventing themselves (“Rocky Balboa”). In the run up to the release of “Creed”, I decided to watch (and re-watch) all of the “Rocky” films to date. What’s impressive, given the length of time over which the films were released, is how well they hang together, even the later entries. Even at their lowest ebb (“Rocky V”), the “Rocky” films are never less than watchable thanks in no small part to the screen charisma and deceptively intelligent performance of Sylvester Stallone in the title role. He continues this trend in “Creed”, helping the film to follow on almost seamlessly from “Rocky Balboa” but it’s Michael B Jordan who effortlessly takes on the mantle of making the film work, both as a sequel and as its own inspirational story.
It’s a little bit of a reach to add a hitherto unknown son of Apollo Creed into the mix but if you can overlook that particular narrative sleight-of-hand then you’re in for a real treat. “Creed” finds new things to say about fathers, sons and forging your own path while still honouring the “Rocky” formula in a fresh and interesting way.
Stallone delivers a fantastically human turn as the aging Rocky Balboa, prompted by lingering guilt from Apollo Creed’s last fight to train his reluctant heir, Adonis. Michael B Jordan is on fiery form as the young boxer, eager to both honour and escape his father’s legacy. Jordan develops a wonderfully authentic chemistry with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca and the budding romance between Adonis and Bianca gives the movie some of its sweetest moments, in amongst all the sporting montages. Only Phylicia Rashad, as Apollo’s widow Mary Anne Creed lets the side down slightly. The third actress to play the role (after Lavelle Roby and Sylvia Meads), she’s largely constrained to providing sassy comments on the fight scenes (her best moment is in the trailers) but I guess she needed the work now those “Cosby Show” residual cheques have stopped rolling in.
Ryan Coogler injects the fight scenes with energy and imagination, but it’s in his character work that the film really excels. In marrying the old and the new so perfectly together, he’s created a love letter to the original movie as well as delivered an uplifting reinforcement of the key message of the entire series: it’s not about being the best; it’s about being your best. With his ability to handle action and character and find new angles on an existing formula, it’s an exciting prospect that Coogler will next be helming “Black Panther” for Marvel.
I don’t care a great deal for the sport of boxing in real life: it’s just not my thing. But I do love the “Rocky” movies and I loved “Creed” just as much. This series has a lot of fight left in it yet.