tue 23/07/2024

Creed | reviews, news & interviews



Stallone retreats to the sidelines in this latest addition to the 'Rocky' saga

Like father like son: the progeny of Rocky’s greatest rival gets his chance to shine in ‘Creed’

Following in the footsteps of Star Wars: The Force Awakens another popular film series which began in the 70s is passed over to a young, admiring pretender. And just as JJ Abrams succeeded there, Ryan Coogler – who announced his talent unapologetically with the searing Fruitvale Station – does so in emphatic fashion here.

This add-on to the Rocky franchise boasts a comparably deft mix of crowd-pleasing familiarity and freshness, particularly in the shape of its canny new casting – a combination that’s set to excite a new generation of fans.

When we last saw Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) he was, rather improbably, holding his own against the heavyweight champion of the world in 2006’s film of the same name. Creed may boast ample deference to Stallone’s six-film vision but it has the courage to move the 69-year-old actor at least temporarily on from his age-defying delusions (most depressingly embodied by The Expendables films) to present Rocky as a more frail and vulnerable man, a man finally willing to pass on the mantle. It’s Stallone’s most honest performance for a long time and his most heartrending work since 1997’s Cop Land.

The timeline is, sadly, questionable: when we first meet Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) in 1998, the young boy we’re introduced to doesn’t seem to fit with the fact that Apollo died in 1985’s Rocky IV. Nevertheless it’s a strong opener as this scrappy pup is taken in by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (here played by Phylicia Rashad) following the death of his mother and subsequent institutionalisation. He’s already a fighter, seen laying the smackdown on a much bigger kid in a juvenile facility.

The film skips forward to show an adult Adonis (Michael B Jordan, pictured above) walking away from what has become a life of privilege and a career in finance to pursue his professional boxing dream. After establishing his reputation in Mexico he’s keen to move into the big-time – although having never met his father he has mixed feelings about his parentage, and so decides to fly under the radar by continuing to use his maternal surname.

Moving from LA to Philadelphia, Adonis seeks out the tutelage of his old man’s greatest adversary and eventual friend Rocky, who’s living a humble life as a restaurateur and still mourning his beloved Adrian. When the world catches wind that Apollo’s son is on the boxing scene he manages to secure a title fight against troubled British fighter ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (pro boxer and three time ABA heavyweight champion Tony Bellew). He also meets and falls for rising star singer Bianca (the impressive Tessa Thompson of Selma, Dear White People fame), a feisty and wary woman suffering from progressive hearing loss.

Coogler carefully balances showmanship and sensitivity

It’s a film that’s true to the spirit, local colour and low-key origins of the original but knows when to play it big and brash – with shifts in tone that could have been jarring but for the most part work well – as Coogler carefully balances showmanship and sensitivity. It sporadically rises to chest-beating heights, exemplified by a rousing moment where Adonis wins the support of the neighbourhood kids – just as Rocky did before him, a scene that’s stirringly flanked by Ludwig Göransson’s awesome score. And in the spectacular smoke-and-fire entrance of Conlan and the bloody, beautifully captured final bout, Coogler relays the swagger of the sport but brings a more subtle brand of scrutiny to the relationships that form behind-the-scenes.

Coogler made Creed for his own Rocky-loving father and gets terrific mileage from the paternal bond that develops between Adonis and Rocky (although Rocky’s own son is conveniently absent, somewhat undermining the conclusion of the previous film). Leading man Jordan delivers exceptional conviction as he quietly but powerfully relays Adonis’ inner turmoil; after years of impressing us in such choice offerings as The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Chronicle and the aforementioned Fruitvale Station, this is his star-making turn and he deserves every ounce of the adulation that will undoubtedly come his way. And former champ Stallone makes for a gracious, understated presence on the sidelines this time (he was awarded this year’s Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe in recognition); likewise, that famous theme does make an appearance but it doesn’t overshadow the emergence of a whole new contender.

It’s a film that’s true to the spirit, local colour and low-key origins of the original but that knows when to play it big and brash


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters