The Italian Stallion is back - sort of! Step into the ring for Creed, a spinoff from the much-loved Rocky franchise that thrusts Michael B. Jordan to the forefront as Adonis Creed, son and heir to the throne of his father Apollo's formidable legacy.
After spending his formative years bouncing from halfway house to correctional facility, Adonis Creed is welcomed into the home of his father's second wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). But the riches and privilege that Adonis enjoys living with his adoptive mother feels unearned and he sets out on a journey to follow in father's footsteps and become a professional boxer.
Adonis travels to Philadelphia to seek out the man who his father fought and admired, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Old, alone and initially reluctant, Rocky soon realises the potential that Adonis holds within him and the two begin to foster a close relationship that blossoms both inside and outside the ring.
Director Ryan Coogler, who previously worked with Jordan on the acclaimed indie drama Fruitvale Station, turns Creed from a potentially indulgent passion project into an essential, compelling and engaging entry into the Rocky franchise. It's both a beautiful continuation of Rocky's story, and an effective entry point into a series that younger fans may not be as familiar with. Rather than sullying the Rocky name, Creed is a film that honours and respects the themes and motifs of the series without feeling ham-fisted or needlessly sentimental. The references are there to remind fans, but they don't batter audiences over the head with them.
The notion of legacy being honoured carries over from production to product, with Adonis desperate to both become the man that his father was, whilst also becoming his own man with his own legacy. It's a wonderful parallel and duality that gives the film a great amount of emotional depth to plumb.
Jordan gives a career-best performance as Adonis. The film may have Rocky in it, but make no mistake; this is Adonis' movie from start to finish, and Jordan doesn't let you forget it. The role demands a lot of physicality from Jordan too, and he certainly hasn't been skipping the gym in preparation for the role.
Also, for the first time in a long while, Sylvester Stallone delivers a performance that covers a lot of ground emotionally. After being absent with The Expendables for so long, the human characteristics inside Stallone and the character he is so intrinsically tied to show themselves once again. The story gives Stallone more to do than just be a gruff mentor, providing an interesting new chapter in the characters storyline. Is that chatter of an Oscar nomination for Stallone warranted? His performance certainly says yes, but we'll have to wait and see which way the proverbial wind is blowing before getting ahead of ourselves.
Tessa Thompson is also superb as Bianca, the girl next door who Adonis grows to like. It would've been so easy for her role to have been sidelined or rendered meaningless, but her character also comes burdened with depth and importance that also builds on the story.
However, on top of all this acting talent delivering the goods, we're also treated to a masterful display of filmmaking and camerawork from Ryan Coogler; whilst long takes and single shots are the kind of thing that critics wank over because they make you sit up and take notice, you can't ignore the fantastic work that Coogler has put into creating drawn out scenes and shots that flow seamlessly as the camera swings around, circles the actors and travels from one place to another.
This isn't like Birdman where you spent the entire film looking for edits. Instead, Creed contains discretely placed and expertly composed extended shots that look invisible, sort of like that infamous sequence in Marvel's Daredevil. Similar to Daredevil, Coogler demands a lot of physicality from his actors in these sequences; in one such scene, Jordan and an opponent are tasked with carrying out an entire fight without a single cut, from entering the ring to knockout. It's not showy or superficial, but damn - is it impressive.
The Verdict: 9/10
Creed is in cinemas across Australia now.