Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew
Running time: 133mins
What’s the story: Almost 40 years after Rocky Balboa’s first fight with Apollo Creed, the Italian Stallion finds himself coaching Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis. But a shot at a championship title is just one of the challenges the two must face.
What’s the verdict: Rocky Balboa has always been a superhero. And like fellow heroes Bond and Batman, Balboa too has walked a path from gutsy realism to camp gaudiness.
Stallone’s 2006’s Rocky Balboa was a successful attempt to put grit back in the glove, and Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler goes the full Casino Royale with a continuation/reinvigoration of the series. Skyfall even makes an appearance on Rocky’s telly.
In the 1998 based prologue you could believe you’re back at Fruitvale Station. A riot has erupted in a boy’s correctional facility, instigated by the young Creed. Rescued from a life of reform schools by Creed’s widow (a commanding Rashad), the lure of the ring still proves irresistible.
Quitting a promising white collar career, Creed heads East to Philadelphia to train under Rocky (Stallone, who else?). But, as Apollo’s ghost drives the young Creed into the ring, it makes Rocky want to pull him back out of it even as the aged pugilist shows the cocky youngster the ropes.
The longest of any Rocky movie to date, Creed keeps the boxing to a brace of blistering fight scenes, one midway through, the other a climactic showdown with “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (real life champion Bellew). Set in Everton football team’s Goodison Park (Stallone is a big fan of The Toffees).
Yet, Ryan Coogler and co-screenwriter Aaron Covington know the series’ success lies in its punches to the heart and have written an unabashed male weepy. Embracing big themes of father and sons, legend vs reality, fading glory and failing bodies, Creed is operatic in the grandest sense of the word without ever slipping on soapiness.
Amidst intense training sequences that are punch to the nose for the cocksure, inexperienced Creed, smaller moments glitter. Rocky keeping a foldaway chair in a tree near Paulie and Adrian’s regularly visited graves, Creed’s awkwardness on his first date with his singer neighbor (Thompson) and the sudden call of nature before his professional debut are character beats that pay dividends when the drama antes up in the second half.
Michael B. Jordan announces himself as a movie star with a performance full of compassion, confusion and frustration, plus the Apollo swagger that convincingly intrigues Rocky into mentoring him.
It is a genuine joy to watch Stallone return to the role presumably closest to him. Genuinely heartfelt and without a shred of irony, he finds fresh aspects to a character seemingly wrung dry. A Best Supporting Actor Oscar seems a sure thing.
What keeps Creed from the five star brilliance of Rocky is the reliance the movie has on the original film. Despite canny references to YouTube, the Cloud and social media, Creed lifts plot points and character motivations from the first instalment.
Coincidentally, this also kept The Force Awakens from attaining the heights of Star Wars. Happily, like The Force Awakens, Creed boasts many perfect moments and a final fight scene that hits all the right emotional beats.
And when the Rocky fanfare blasts on the soundtrack your tear ducts will be well and truly KO’d.