This exhilarating, blood-soaked <em>Rocky</em> spin-off is the first contender for film of the year
There is no earthly reason for Creed to be any good. It’s the seventh Rocky film – or should we say ‘Rocky-related’ – but Rocky doesn’t even fight in it. It’s about the illegitimate son of a secondary character, played by Michael B. Jordan, an actor who is enormously talented but not exactly super-famous. And yet it will be a great year at the cinema if 2016 sees many films more entertaining.
Creed is the story of Adonis Johnson (Jordan), whose father, he discovers, is Apollo Creed, the boxer who you may remember beating Rocky, then losing to Rocky, then being killed by Ivan Drogo in Rockys 1-4. Creed decides to follow in the family business, though under his mother’s surname, and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, obviously), now retired and running a restaurant, to train him. Plot-wise, it’s all pretty first base, but Ryan Coogler, who directed Jordan in 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station, directs the hell out of it.
Firstly, his fight sequences are showstoppers: flashy, a bit show-offy with long, unbroken takes, but always in the service of making the matches feel like big events. They’re a screaming, crunching thrill. You can practically feel great gobs of sweat and blood smack you with each punch. But in a fun way. Beyond that, Coogler works the drama like a seasoned director, even though this is only his second film. The performance he gets from Stallone, who was Oscar-nominated for Rocky but isn’t an actor you think of as subtle, is a heartbreaker. He wears the glories and aches of all the past Rocky films heavily, making even the rubbish sequels worthwhile. Jordan fully justifies his hype with a star performance.
Creed is really an exhibition of what a great director can do with a good script. Pun not intended, but he punches up every scene, ramping up emotion, joy, fury – judiciously using occasional hints of that famous theme – until by the end, as the big fight reaches its crescendo, it’s all you can do not to stand up and cheer. If you love sports films start queuing now. If you don’t, you might be about to change your mind.
Stars: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Director: Ryan Coogler
Release date: 15 Jan, 2016