THE IDEA of a return to the Rocky saga for a seventh film after the disaster of Rocky V and the awkward embarrassment of Rocky VI is a surprise. The franchise is a bit antiqued, especially with how cheesy it became in later installments. But this is the first Rocky movie not written by Sylvester Stallone and that is a very good thing.
Creed's script is lean, honest, and sharp, and while it does have the usual check list of cliches all sports movies have, there is a freshness to it. Writer/director Ryan Coogler was apparently a huge fan of the series and would watch them with his father. He wrote the first draft of this story when he was a teen.
The story takes the wise decision to demote Rocky Balboa to a secondary character. We follow Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B Jordan, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky's rival/friend from Rocky until his death in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Adonis has been adopted by Apollo’s wife after spending years in juvenile detention centres. Years later he quits his job in a securities firm, where he has just been promoted, to concentrate on following in his father's footsteps and become a fighter. He seeks out Rocky in Philadelphia to be trained by him. From there you can imagine how the story goes but it does not take away from what a fun ride it is.
Coogler is a talented young film-maker who has been overlooked this year for a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. The money shot of the movie is Adonis's first fight. It comes about an hour in and is done entirely with one steadicam shot. The shot is one of the most impressive things I have seen on screen all year. Give me this over the misery and the self flagellation of The Revenant any day of the week.
There is something about boxing that lends itself incredibly well to film, and the best sports movies are, more often than not, boxing based - Raging Bull, Rocky, Cinderella Man, and Million Dollar Baby. Creed can be put alongside them and not feel out of place.
Unfortunately America loves its heroes, when they are white and male. So it seems the talented director and brilliant star (both black ) are being overlooked stateside in the award ceremonies. You will be looking a long time to find a performance in a sports movie that matches Michael B Jordan here. Sly however puts in the same performance he has been putting in for years and if you think it is awards worthy you need to get out more.
Creed has managed something remarkable - it is a film in probably the most cliched of genres, that while it does not feel new, it does have young energy that makes this a must see.