Almost 40 years after Rocky first exploded onto the movie scene there’s a new spin off in cinemas. And while that would normally be cause for alarm, Creed is that rare beast which both justifies its own existence and reinvigorates the franchise.
It’s a film which expertly pulls in elements of nostalgia with the well-worm rhythms of the sports-movie genre, right down to those expertly paced montages and the emotional peaks and troughs. It’s all familiar so familiar that it’s hard not to be swept along and young director Ryan Coogler brings plenty of energy from his side of the camera.
I have to admit that I wasn’t immediately on board with Creed. It’s a slow moving film which dawdles in drama for much of its first half but by the time Coogler and co stage a slow motion, musically enhanced moment of training triumph, I was hooked.
The pairing of new star Michael B Jordan and returning player Sylvester Stallone is a canny one, representing a bridging point for the series and the logical extension of Sly’s creaky but enjoyable Rocky Balboa from 2006.
Jordan proves that he’s a real star on the rise with an engaging performance that’s a part anger, part hope – a kid trying to come to terms with the shadow of a father he never knew. He looks great in the ring and never lets the tone become too mawkish.
There’s real technical artistry in evidence as well, with Coogler’s direction and frequent doc shooter Maryse Alberti’s lensing adding an air of grittiness to this downtown Philadelphia which is more in keeping with the original 1976 film. That’s paired with some virtuoso sequences, including a single take fight with plenty of CGI help that ups the intensity to almost unbearable levels.
Creed is a little long at 133 minutes and the romantic subplot feels utterly extraneous but that’s easily forgiven, especially in the film’s final moments. There’s a deliberate and powerful build up of emotions, stakes and relationships which draws us to the final fight, and the payoff packs a real punch.