For an underdog story, the Rocky franchise sure has a lot of fight in it. This entry is essentially chapter seven. Yet while it started as the saga of a man who fought his way blow for blow from the bottom to the top, it wound up as something different. We held our breath alongside Rocky Balboa. We laughed and cried over six movies as he found his place in the ring, only to face his own post-success demons. Where to go from there? Well director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan seem to have found the answer. Creed gives the established format a tweak and while the title character isn’t exactly an underdog, he’s not a born champion either.
When we first meet Adonis Johnson he’s using his fists in a childrens’ home. However it isn’t long before stepmother Phylicia Rashad has tracked him down, taking him back to the LA mansion of his legendary father Apollo Creed, where he receives a stable upbringing. Flash forward a few years and Adonis has grown into the confident and photogenic form of Jordan. He’s got a well-paid job and is a million miles from the blood and sawdust of his legacy. Of course Adonis isn’t happy and wants to be a boxer. With people understandably baffled after he jacks in his number-crunching career and receiving no support from local gyms, he is forced to head to Philadelphia, where he seeks out his Dad’s former opponent Rocky (Stallone), who now runs a restaurant and is easing into old age. Adonis hopes Balboa will train him to be a contender. The ageing legend isn’t interested, though naturally changes his mind when he realizes the kid is a path to resurrecting former glories. The stage is set for a solid rebooting of the gloves ‘n guts saga.
Jordan is likeable enough as the title character, exuding an easy charm. For me that became a problem – this guy is supposed to be struggling to achieve his ambitions. The thing with Jordan is he’s so laid back he rarely looks that concerned about anything. Only in the final act where the stakes are at their highest does he start raising his game. The majority of the time you’re wondering why this privileged young man is putting himself out like this, Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington largely failing to show what makes Adonis tick. It’s worth noting that no reference is made to the manner of Apollo’s demise, battered to death by Dolph Lundgren in an East-West powerplay for the ludicrous Rocky IV. (That was the one with the robot.)
The film is on much surer footing with Stallone, who’s a pleasure to watch, depicting Rocky as a dry and world weary pensioner at peace with his life and lot. Tessa Thompson is an appealing female lead, playing Adonis’s love interest Bianca, a singer. Their relationship is more of a time filler than an essential part of the narrative, but the pair have a convincing chemistry.
Coogler does a good job shooting the action. There are two main fights in the picture, one captured in an uninterrupted take, the other in a more conventional style. I would have welcomed more grit to the final showdown with Liverpudlian boxer “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (bona fide fighter Anthony Bellew), but you get a reasonable amount of satisfaction to the end bout, as well as a much-needed explanation of why Adonis feels he has to follow in Apollo’s footsteps.
I’m not sure how Creed’s journey is going to develop from here, as I got the impression all the bases had been covered. Then again, you could have said the original classic was a one shot deal and look what happened there. Producer Stallone and company are no doubt hoping for a few additional rounds in the company of their new star and Jordan is certainly easy on the eye. Does he have what it takes to go the full ten rounds? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Creed is out to own on DVD and Blu-ray.