Matthew Turner reviews Rocky spin-off Creed, starring Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone
It’s a bit of a strange coincidence that seventies titans Star Wars and Rocky both have their seventh instalments in cinemas at the same time, particularly as both new films deliberately hark back to the specific story beats of their original movies. Happily, as seventh instalments go, Creed is every bit as enjoyable as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, serving as a great boxing movie in its own right, but also effectively rebooting the Rocky franchise for a new generation.
Directed by Ryan Coogler (graduating to studio features after his acclaimed indie debut Fruitvale Station), Creed stars Michael B Jordan (reteaming with Coogler after Fruitvale) as Adonis ‘Donny’ Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who has a white collar financial sector job by day, but can’t escape the pull of his famous father’s heritage, and keeps sneaking off to Tijuana for a spot of illegal street fighting.
Against the wishes of his step-mother Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who rescued him from a care home after Apollo’s death, Donny heads to Philadelphia to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer and asks his father’s former opponent-turned-friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to help him train.
Donny’s spirit stirs something in Rocky, and the pair begin to train together, leading to some familiar-looking montage sequences. Then, after a successful first fight, news of Donny’s famous heritage leaks out, which sets up an underdog shot at the title against British light-heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew). Meanwhile, Rocky has a battle of his own to contend with, while Donny sparks up a romance with scrappy downstairs neighbour Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
Michael B Jordan is terrific as Donny, exuding serious amounts of charisma and delivering an impressively physical performance, both in and out of the ring. He may have been cruelly overlooked at the Oscars, but there’s no doubt that this is his breakthrough role. Similarly, Stallone (appearing in the first Rocky film that he didn’t write or direct) is superb as the ageing Italian Stallion, sparking powerful chemistry with Jordan and turning in a performance that is genuinely moving.
Coogler’s direction is assured, and there are several nicely played human touches scattered throughout, such as the detail of DJ Bianca’s hearing aid or an amusing moment when a boxing-gloved Donny has to make an urgent toilet visit out of nerves when he’s waiting to go on.
Aside from continuing the Rocky story in a hugely satisfying manner, Creed also stands as an immensely enjoyable boxing movie in its own right, even if it does lift rather a few too many moments from its predecessor (begging the question, if the famous steps are in, why not the slabs of frozen meat?). To that end, the boxing sequences are brilliantly handled, particularly during an early fight sequence that unfolds in a single, unbroken take (using a similar technique to that used in Birdman).
The only issue with the film is that some of the dialogue, such as the cod-psychology surrounding Donny’s relationship with the father he never knew, is a little too trite and on-the-nose, with characters frequently spelling out what would have been better left unsaid.
But this is a thoroughly entertaining boxing drama, enlivened by the one-two punch of Jordan and Stallone’s performances.
Creed is in cinemas from today, Jan 15