Almost 40 years after he first played boxer Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone reprises his role in this spin-off movie.
This time, however, the film’s scrappy underdog is Michael B Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, illegitimate son of deceased heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, who cajoles his late father’s friend Rocky to become his trainer and boost his own boxing dreams.
Up-and-coming young filmmaker Ryan Coogler directs with muscular assurance, confident enough to deploy the old one-two combo of violence in the ring and sentiment outside the ropes, and unafraid of dishing out the customary clichés when required.
His actors make the weight, too. Jordan conveys a convincing blend of toughness and vulnerability, self-possession and doubt, while Oscar-nominated Stallone, brimming with battered dignity, is the best he’s been in years.
The film’s underwhelming romantic sub-plot involving musician Tessa Thompson doesn’t really get out of the corner and the training montages are all too predictable.
But the bouts themselves are choreographed with brutal grace and the action builds to a rousing climax, boosted by deft use of Bill Conti’s triumphant Rocky theme.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter when the film telegraphs its moves, it still gets under the viewer’s guard. Not quite a knockout movie, then, but this certainly wins on points.