Creed (2015)

Your legacy is more than a name.

Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has never really belonged. The illegitimate son of deceased heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Adonis has long had an instinct to fight.

After quitting a high-paying white-collar job, Adonis ventures to Philadelphia on a quest to make a name for himself in boxing, away from the shadow of the father he never knew. There, he meets his father’s former opponent and friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who reluctantly takes him under his wing to the confusion and shock of many. Meanwhile, Adonis begins a slow romance with neighbor and local singer/songwriter Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Together, the three inspire and challenge each other, despite their own demons.

‘I’m real sorry about Fantastic 4 ...’
‘I’m real sorry about Fantastic 4 …’

The Rocky films are as much of an underdog story as the narratives themselves. The original film had its first draft written in three days (eventually going through another nine drafts), was shot for a mere one million dollars in just twenty-eight days, and became a hit with audiences and critics alike, nabbing the Best Picture Oscar in 1977. By the time the series had seemingly wrapped up in 1990 with Rocky V, despite fading critical praise, the box office had remained consistently strong, demonstrating a deep love for the character by moviegoers.

And then there was Rocky Balboa (2006). It marked something of a return to form for both Rocky and Sylvester Stallone, who arguably hadn’t had a standout film since Copland (1997), a role for which he was highly acclaimed. Once again, the ‘Italian Stallion’ proved a big hit with audiences and critics, and the film delivered a far more palatable coda to the series than Rocky V’s infamous out-of-character street brawl.

And now, almost a decade after Rocky waved us goodbye, into the ring steps Creed. A long-time dream for 29-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station (2013), the seventh installment of the beloved series successfully manages to balance elements that Rocky fans have adored, while keeping focused on championing its central character and his story. The result is a film that works just as well for the uninitiated as it does for the long-standing fanatics, sporting an old-school gritty urban feel.

‘Ey yo ... I want dat hat, brah ...’
‘Ey yo … I want dat hat, brah …’

While you won’t find better insight into the drive behind such a brutal sport, the passion and excitement behind it are palpable, making each boxing scene a real thrill to watch. Each fight has its own flavor, with the second masterfully rendered in a one take shot by French director of photography Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler (2008), that smoothly dances around the ring with the characters, ducking and weaving with a clarity that sometimes lacks in modern tussle sequences.

On the casting end, things are solid all round. Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four (2015), delivers a stellar performance, cementing himself as an actor to watch, while Stallone brings in a slightly different take on his iconic character, showing Balboa as a humble restaurant owner, who seems to be well and truly done with the prize-fighting circuit, having hung up his padded leather mittens for once and for all. Tessa Thompson, Dear White People (2014), doesn’t have much to do as the love interest, but she manages to be appropriately charming.

Does Creed present an original and unpredictable narrative? Not really, but it’s one that grows in its appeal and ultimately triumphs. By keeping the point of view grounded with Adonis, the film allows his character a chance to reveal himself intimately to viewers, leaving Rocky as an appropriate and important support player who doesn’t steal the spotlight.

‘Hey Sly, can you get out of my shot, man?’
‘Hey Sly, can you get out of my shot, man?’

Can we expect more from Adonis Creed and/or Rocky Balboa? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, this is a tale worth stepping into the ring for.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Creed is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia