Creed movie review: 'Somehow rediscovers the warmth, passion and vitality of the original Rocky'
We didn’t need another film about the ‘Italian Stallion’. Lest we forget, the sixth Rocky instalment, 2006’s Rocky Balboa, positioned itself as something of a neatly packaged send-off to an uneven series.
Yet, here we are, a decade later, and rising American film-maker Ryan Coogler has taken it upon himself to revive the Rocky saga with Creed, a curious spin-off in which the former World Heavyweight Champion from Philadelphia trains the son of the late Apollo Creed (Rocky’s old rival/bestie) so that he can follow in his auld fella’s footsteps. How do things pan out? Rather brilliantly, would you believe.
The key to Creed’s success is that Sylvester Stallone (who created the character back in 1976) has, for once, taken something of a back seat in the project, allowing for Coogler and fellow screenwriter Aaron Covington to develop and follow through on a story that somehow rediscovers the warmth, passion and vitality of the original.
It helps, mind, that standing centre of the ring is a captivating Michael B Jordan as Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnson, Apollo Creed’s grown-up son (from an extramarital affair, mind) and the new underdog of the tale, who leaves behind Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (his adoptive mother), not to mention a cushy desk job in LA, to become a professional boxer in Philly, eventually convincing an ageing Balboa (Stallone, delivering an understated and, in turn, tremendous portrayal of his oldest cinematic pal) to help carry him to the top.
It won’t be easy — Donnie is reluctant to use the family name, and things take a turn for the worst when poor Rocky falls ill. There’s a tender love story in there, too, with Donnie falling for Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who lives in his apartment block. And — get this — the film also ends up in Liverpool. Yep, Donnie’s boxing rival is a scouser.
A smart and expertly handled boxing drama, Creed stands tall as one of the most entertaining sports films we’ve seen in years; a scintillating and, occasionally, moving piece with genuine heart, energy, depth and humour. Oh, and the fight scenes are brilliant.
A wonderful surprise.