Philadelphian boxing legend Rocky Balboa comes out of retirement for the nth time when Adonis, the son (out of wedlock) of his late former adversary turned best buddy Apollo Creed, rocks up in Philly looking for a trainer to help him realise his dream of following in his father's footsteps. Adonis has a very cushy life and and even cushier job in LA, but he has fighting in his DNA, and a recurring itch that needs to be scratched. Initially reluctant to get back in the ring (metaphorically speaking) - and understandably so after how his previous ill fated excursion into coaching with Tommy Gunn (Rocky V) turned out - it's not long before a little soul searching reignites the flame, and Rocky is soon dusting off that famous, battered grey tracksuit and following in the footsteps of his mentor Mickey to become Adonis' trainer.
Upon discovering that there was going to be a Rocky spinoff, I must admit to being a bit sceptical and thought it sounded a little gimmicky. After all, Rocky Balboa (2006) was an excellent bookend to the Rocky movies, and there wasn't really anywhere left to go with the saga. A convenient method then to take things forward was not to have the plotline revolve around Rocky but another character. So this is what they did with Adonis Creed. Of course, there'd be a feeling of emptiness to have a film within the Rocky universe but not have the Italian Stallion be part of it. Therefore, I was much more encouraged when it was announced that Sylvester Stallone would be involved (albeit in a supporting capacity). Furthermore, it was also positive that rising young actor Michael B. Jordan - who impressed in the excellent 'superhero' origins movie Chronicle - was playing the titular role. Also, the director Ryan Coogler had received many plaudits for his debut feature Fruitvale Station (also starring Jordan) - although I have yet to see this film.
Similar to the style of (the Stallone directed) Rocky Balboa, the approach from Coogler is an effort to revert to the seventies roots of the original Rocky. Whilst each subsequent sequel, with their penchant for training montages and Survivor-centric soundtracks, became much more akin to an overblown, action movie (epitomised by Rocky III and IV) than a boxing drama - perhaps reflective of Stallone's increasing status as a muscle toned, action icon; as well as the glossy 80s excess style of films ushered in by likes of the Simpson/Bruckheimer producing behemoths - Coogler's film is shot much more like a lower key, indie drama than any of the others besides John Avildsen's original film (OK, and perhaps Rocky II as well).
By their nature, boxing movies (or anything sport related on celluloid for that matter) tend to adhere to a certain formula in terms of narrative, and Creed is not much different in that respect. Rocky V dared to shake it up a bit, and it was greeted with a mixed to underwhelming response with critics and fans alike. Creed doesn't really deviate from the formulaic Rocky template, and if you're looking for any big surprises, twists and turns, you won't find it here (well, you might get one little surprise depending on how well tuned your predictability radar is). In essence, the emphasis here is on the execution of the story rather than the plotline itself. Coogler is apparently a huge Rocky fan, and the script (with co-writer Aaron Covington) is reflective of this. As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed is a film that the fans will appreciate with the various references to the series peppered throughout the film. I don't want to spoil them but they'll definitely raise a wry smile - I'll just mention that "old school" methods are a particular highlight. Suffice to say, when the strains of "Gonna Fly Now" make its appearance during the finale, if you're not joyously "whooping" inside, then a quick inspection of your pulse is advised.
As Adonis Creed, Michael B. Jordan continues his ascendancy as a rising star with a charismatic turn as son of Apollo. Jordan is an engaging screen presence, and strikes a good balance between cockiness and vulnerability. Stallone (allowing himself to look his age for the first time) delivers an earnest performance as the aged and weary Balboa, and given a new lease of life by the appearance of Creed Jnr - Stallone is a much better actor than he is given credit for, and would be a deserved winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The other major 'character' in Creed is the city of Philadelphia itself. I always like it when an American movie is located somewhere other than LA or New York, and the urban setting of "Philly" is shot in such a way that I could almost breathe the air and smell the fumes.
The only gripe, performance wise, is the decision to use real-life boxers to portray Creed's fight opponents. Sure, they contribute immensely to the boxing sequences - which are fantastically choreographed, and have a more authentic flavour than the OTT style of the previous films - but the problem is that they are not actors (or more to the point, not even had much acting experience) and it shows. The pedigree of Rocky's adversaries began right at the top of the spectrum with Carl Weathers' Ali inspired Apollo Creed. This continued with the larger than life Clubber Lang (Mr. T), and the silent but deadly Ivan Drago. Since then, it's been a downward spiral with the casting for Rocky V of the late Tommy Morrison, who was definitely a better boxer than he was an actor. It didn't get any better with Antonio Tarver - who was a bland, charisma bypass zone as Mason "The Line" Dixon (even his nickname is boring!) in Rocky Balboa. Unfortunately the English/Scouse boxer Tony Bellew doesn't avert this trend - his Pretty Ricky Conlan just feels misplaced next to the other characters, and his appearances only served to take this viewer out of the film.
In summary, Creed is an adequately enjoyable entry into the Rocky canon without re-inventing the wheel of the boxing genre. Balboa fans are likely to appreciate Creed more than others, as Coogler goes back to the original sensibilities of where the character(s) came from. As well as delivering an ode to the series, Coogler re-energises the franchise with the casting of Michael B. Jordan. It is further elevated with the involvement of Stallone, and the chemistry between student and mentor respectively is real and heartfelt. Everyone knows how the journey is likely to end, but this is all about the ride.