Creed | Film review – Rousing sequel picks Rocky off the canvas and wins on points

Forty years after Sylvester Stallone’s heroic bruiser first climbed into the ring, Rocky spinoff movie Creed shows that cinema’s most iconic boxing brand still packs a punch.

This time, however, the film’s scrappy underdog is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s opponent-turned-friend Apollo Creed, the former heavyweight champ who hit the canvas for good in the series’ fourth instalment.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) never knew his celebrated father, having spent his early childhood in the care system before being adopted at the age of 10 by Apollo’s rich widow (Phylicia Rashad). He’s been pursuing his own boxing career with under-the-radar bouts in Tijuana, Mexico, but when he moves to Philadelphia to further his ambitions it’s his father’s old sparring partner to whom he turns, imploring him to become his trainer. Reluctant at first, Rocky eventually relents, guiding his protégé towards an unexpected championship showdown…

Emulating JJ Abrams with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, up-and-coming director Ryan Coogler has restarted a beloved screen franchise with roots in the 1970s, creating a sequel cum reboot that honours its predecessors’ legacy but gives a jolt of fresh energy to a cinematic saga that appeared to be played out.

He directs Creed 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, star of Coogler’s directorial debut, powerful indie film Fruitvale Station, conveys a convincing blend of toughness and vulnerability, self-possession and doubt, while Stallone is the best he’s been in years. Brimming with battered dignity, his tender, touching performance has already scooped a Golden Globe and may even see him go the full distance at the Oscars.

The film’s underwhelming romantic sub-plot, which finds Adonis wooing his musician neighbour Bianca (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 film, then, but Creed certainly wins on points.

Certificate 12A. Runtime 133 mins. Director Ryan Coogler

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