Release date: 15 January 2015
Running time: 133 min
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish, Phylicia Rashad.
With Sylvester Stalllone still headlining the same sort of action-fare he’s done for the past thirty-odd years, it’s easy to forget that the man is pushing seventy. Sure, at times he resembles an inflatable meat suit, but he’s always fiercely fought the ageing process. It’s also easy to forget that Stallone can, when the mood takes him, pull off a genuinely heart-felt performance. Creed could so easily have been the same old story; the fact that it’s a genuine joy to watch comes as a welcome surprise.
After bouncing around a number of group homes as a kid, Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis (Johnson) is taken in by his widow Mary Anne (Rashad). After fighting in secret for years, he quits his day job and travels to Philly to follow in his father’s footsteps and give professional boxing a real shot. There he finds Rocky (Stallone), who on learning his background reluctantly agrees to train him in the run up to his first fight.
As with a lot of boxing films, there is much about Creed that will feel familiar. Indeed if you’ve ever seen Rocky, you’ll likely know almost exactly how things will pan out. Thankfully however, despite a sense of deja vu, there’s enough tricks up its sleeve to keep the material compelling. There’s a reason that boxing makes for such a cinematic sport after all.
Free from a lot of the macho nonsense that comes with the territory, Creed is actually a touchingly sweet story about loss and friendship. Although perhaps a little too pretty to be a boxer, Johnson makes for a very likeable lead and is in impressive shape. The boxing is, at times, brutal; trading blows with real-life professional boxers such as Tony Bellew is no mean feat, and Johnson ably matches them punch for punch.
Stallone has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and it’s not hard to see why. Rocky’s big bulk and dumb, happy-go-lucky charm are both present, but beneath it all lies a deep melancholy and sense of vulnerability like we’ve never seen in the character before. With everyone he has ever loved gone -Adrian and Paulie have both passed and his son lives in Canada- he’s struggling to find any meaning in his later years. Stallone shows a maturity that he’s previously never displayed, and it makes for an emotional and heartfelt closure for Rocky that we never thought we needed.
Director Ryan Coogler brings an authenticity to proceedings without feeling the need to resort to sensationalist violence or hyper masculinity. Instead we feel like we are spending time in the company of real people, and for the most part we like them. We root for them. Like Rocky, Donnie is an underdog we can all get behind; and so the series comes full circle. A befitting conclusion for a series that had lost its way, let’s hope it’s not resurrected again.