if asked to create a list of franchises that didn’t really need another instalment, the Rocky series would surely figure high on a lot of people’s lists. It’s easy to forget, though, that back in 1977, the original film lifted the best movie Oscar, trouncing rivals of the calibre of Taxi Driver and Network. Sadly though, the film’s writer and star, Sylvester Stallone went on to produce a series of increasingly cartoonish sequels (he did the same thing with his other big franchise, Rambo) and its these inferior films that tend to linger in the public’s consciousness.
So how do you find a new angle on the story? Writer/director Ryan Coogler, creator of the much-admired Fruitvale Station, has given it his best shot and it’s to his credit that the resulting film is as watchable as it is. Creed focuses very much on an African-American perspective. Where earlier films had a powerful white man overcoming black champions, here the familiar story is pitched in reverse (and is therefore arguably a more realistic premise).
Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of the late former world champion, Apollo Creed. He’s grown up with not so much a chip on his shoulder as a five ton boulder. Raised by Creed’s wife in the lap of luxury, Adonis still has an overpowering urge to punch people for a living and has already been the victor in a string clandestine bouts in Mexico, but he longs to go legit. So he throws in his cushy job in L.A, moves to a tiny flat in Philadelphia and searches out a suitable trainer. Inevitably, his gaze falls upon Rocky Balboa, the only man ever to have beaten his old man in the ring.
These days, Rocky (Stallone) is running a restaurant named after his late wife, Adrian and is suffering from a few health issues. Initially reluctant to return to his former life, he sees something in Adonis and… well, you can pretty much work out the rest. Ultimately, it does come down to another gruelling string of training and fighting sequences and those viewers who are turned off by the sight of grown men brutally pummelling each other to unconsciousness are not going to like this at all. There are a few cleverly placed references to the original movie and interestingly, Adonis’s main opponent here is former heavyweight champion, Tony Bellew, playing a character called’Pretty’ Ricky Conlan. Ironically, he looks considerably less buff than most of the actors in the film, but having said that, I still wouldn’t want to trade punches with him.
Jordan is convincing as the ‘hungry’ kid on the block, Stallone still mumbles so much, you only recognise three words out of every five and the film is ultimately KO’d in the final round by some decidedly mawkish dialogue as Rocky points out that Adonis’s punch up with Conlan is just the same as his own battle with the big C. But the climactic fight is thrillingly staged and while it’s not a patch on the likes of Raging Bull or The Fighter, it’s nonetheless the best Rocky film in a very long time.
Not exactly a knockout, then, but it wins on points. Stallone is already threatening a rematch.