A few years ago, pretty much everyone thought the Rocky franchise was dead, and that any attempt to resurrect it would be a pointless, awful cash-in. However, 2006’s Rocky Balboa proved there might be a little life left, and now Creed is cashing in on that promise.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate offspring of Apollo Creed, who’s been trapped in foster homes and juvenile detention until he’s given a chance by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad), who decides to take him in. She also points him towards someone else from her husband’s past, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who reluctantly agrees to help train the young man and turn him into a boxer.
Adonis and Rocky grow closer, with the old boxer becoming the father figure Adonis never had. However, Rocky is increasingly having health problems which may throw a spanner in both their training and relationship.
Initially no one knows about Adonis’ heritage, but when it’s discovered, the young, inexperienced fighter is invited to battle the champion, Ricky Conlan, who’s looking before a final big fight before a prison terms will force him in to retirement. Although initially unsure, Adonis eventually agrees to take on the fight that will prove whether he can live up to his father’s legacy.
After a fairly slow and somewhat stereotypical start, Creed starts to ramp up and become increasingly engrossing, taking us through a fantastic single-shot first fight, and then the build-up to the big boxing match. Its greatest strength is a genuine love for the characters, particularly the aging Rocky, and their struggles. It doesn’t hurt that there’s something thrilling footage in the ring either.
Creed also ensures there’s plenty of thematic interest, with the plot offering all sorts of deliberate echoes of the 1976 original and then comparing them to what’s happening in the new movie. It’s particularly interested in the idea of legacy. Rocky has reached a stage of his life where it feels like everything is behind him. He reached the heights of success at a young age, had true love with Adrian and now feels like he has done everything he can or wants to do. In the world of sports he has a great legacy, but as a man he knows he’s just running out the clock.
Adonis meanwhile is dealing with a different kind of legacy, being the son of someone who everyone agrees was truly great at what he did. Despite never having met Apollo, Adonis knows there’s that weight on him. Initially he tries to sidestep it by not letting anyone except those close to him know who his dad was, before embracing it and realising he can forge his own destiny alongside that of his father’s.
There are admittedly a couple of very convenient plot points, and moments where the characters overexplain things because the movie knows the audience might think it’s a bit of a push story of character-wise. However these are only minor complaints.
Overr, it’s an entertaining and extremely well made ride, with a few thrilling moments and a great ability to tap into nostalgia while also feeling like something new, and which works in its own right. Indeed, there’s potential here for Creed II, III and beyond.
Overall Verdict: A great reinvigoration for the Rocky franchise, bringing the story to a new generation while more than paying tribute to the old.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac