As a fan of the Rocky franchise and Michael B Jordan, I was desperate to watch Creed, the spin-off about the son of the late Apollo Creed, the initial rival and subsequent best friend of Rocky Balboa. What made it even more exciting for me is that the film is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the man who brought out the best in Jordan in the hard-hitting, gritty and emotional Fruitvale Station.
And so it pleases me to declare that Creed is an absolute winner, a powerful, energetic and moving boxing drama that manages to effectively milk the cache and nostalgia of the Rocky franchise without coming across as cheap or cheesy.
While this year’s other boxing blockbuster, Southpaw, disappointed me to no end because of its lack of realism and over-abundance of predictability and cliches, Creed impresses with relative realism, pleasant surprises and by embracing the right cliches at the right times. The resulting experience is night and day; in boxing terms it’s a first round knockout by Creed.
The first reason why Creed succeeds is because it’s driven by wonderfully developed central characters — Adonis (Jordan) and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). As per my usual policy, I’m not going to divulge anything more than the basic premise you already know, though I will say it is best to avoid the film’s second (and more detailed) trailer due to spoilers.
It would have been easy to just bring back Rocky in his capacity as a trainer like in Rocky V and make Apollo a stock hero with a typical rags to riches trajectory (like Billy Hope Southpaw), but Coogler (with apparent minimal input from a very respectable Stallone) manages to flesh out both of them extremely well and give them worthwhile personal journeys.
I loved Rocky’s development since the last film and there are tragic elements to his story I found surprisingly moving. On the other hand, you might have a preconceived notion of who Adonis is, but there are many aspects to his character I did not anticipate, and I enjoyed the little bits of misdirection that Coogler throws our way to play with our prejudices and expectations. Though this is ultimately still a Rocky-type movie with typical elements from the franchise, I liked how Coogler added wrinkles to the story to remind us that it’s not a clean-cut fairytale and there are harsh realities to be faced. It’s not 100% realism of course, but it adds an edge to the characters and their situations.
The performances are spectacular. Jordan deserves as much praise as Gyllenhaal received for Southpaw (he’s easily just as ripped too), while Stallone deserves the supporting actor nominations he has been getting, reminding me that Stallone can actually act (his running around in platform boots shooting baddies with his buddies in recent years has made me forget). The chemistry between them is fantastic, and I’m happy that this really is a Creed movie as opposed to a clever disguise for another Rocky movie.
In terms of the action, the boxing scenes in Creed are excellent. The training sequences look authentic, while inside the ring the fights are generally well-choreographed, though still slightly on the wild brawling side of the Rocky films of old rather than the realistic technical brilliance of true elite-level boxing. Thanks to the creative camera angles Coogler adopts, there is a bit of that “fly on the wall” feel, which is great because it adds an extra dimension to the usual TV-style presentation or first-person point of view.
As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed has taken an old formula and rebooted it, and in my humble opinion it might have done it even more effectively. It’s a mixture of the old and new, going back to the root of the Rocky Balboa underdog story but with an intriguing new lead and twist. There’s nostalgia but also freshness, solid boxing action but also moving drama. Creed is without doubt the lineal boxing movie of 2015.
4.25 stars out of 5