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Creed

August 19, 2016

Creed (2015)
Director: Ryan Coogler
Actors: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

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Synopsis: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of the late former heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed. Adonis – an aspiring boxer – heads over to Philadelphia to enlist the help of Apollo’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)…

Review: Ryan Coogler proves an absolute dab hand at mining the rich backstory of the Rocky Balboa universe to fashion a surprisingly tasteful take on its characters, themes and overall conventions. The “twist” is that this time the hero with the obstacles to overcome isn’t Rocky himself but the young, illegitimate son of his former rival, Apollo Creed. Taking a leaf out of the trend now rife throughout Hollywood for stories that tug at our sense of nostalgia and recognition of ‘brand’ storyworlds, Coogler excels in playing on the quasi-mythological trappings of his backstory – making literal in his opening coda that the film is about a quest to live up to the very name “Creed”.

What Coogler does so well is in honouring the features of the Rocky story we all love (the ‘rags to riches’ sentiment, the indestructible opponent, the inspirational training montages, the love interest, the return to ‘blue collar’ values), while also updating the sophistication of the telling of that story. Coogler wisely recruits actual professional boxers – and world-class ones too in Tony Bellew and Andre Ward – to populate his story, and the fights are brilliantly filmed in vertiginous, de facto single takes, approximating the sensation of actually being in a boxing ring.

Sylvester Stallone’s return as Rocky is a resounding crowd-pleaser as well. It’s a wonderful, humane performance which is beautifully judged by Stallone: in particular, when he makes a cracking joke about not understanding the “cloud” where Adonis has recorded his training notes. It’s arguable whether Rocky needed a cancer subplot as he was already imbued with enough pathos and world-weariness already, but that aside, his turn dovetails expertly with the livewire Michael B. Jordan in the title role, and this is unquestionably one of the best entrants to the entire Rocky series. (August 2016)

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