A continuation of the Rocky series, this was a film that could have gone two ways. As another entry in a franchise that is slightly past its sell-by date
with a lead actor whose other high profile acting role this year was in a superhero turkey. Alternatively it could result in a fresh spin on an old formula
from a director and actor whose previous collaboration was an impressive, highly regarded indie debut. Thankfully and perhaps against the odds, the latter
is what we get.
Though it certainly doesn't reinvent the boxing movie and reuses a lot of genre clichés along the way, there's a lot to admire in Fruitvale Station
director Ryan Coogler's script and direction. Closer in spirit and tone to the first Rocky film and mercifully free of the cartoonish elements that marred
much of the middle instalments, there's a refreshing, truthful and often emotional edge on display here. Coogler keeps things unflashy for the most part,
kicking it up a gear for a couple of impressive fight scenes. An early fight in particular, plays out in a single unbroken take. The final bout, though
more conventionally shot, is also very good.
Michael B Jordan impresses as the son of Apollo Creed, determined to fight his way out of the shadow of a father he never met, but oddly the real
revelation is Stallone himself who has a couple of scenes alongside Jordan that are as good as anything he's done in years. As with Copland back in the
90s, it's a reminder that Stallone can act when he wants to, given a decent script and director. He's never going to be a truly great actor, but he has
some genuinely thrilling moments here. The only shame is regarding its female cast. Both Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson start off with interesting
multi-layered characters but end up relegated to the more usual worried onlooker role by the time the final fight arrives. Thompson in particular deserves
better having been so good in Dear White People.
Despite that, Creed rarely puts a foot wrong. It's only jarring moment, especially for UK viewers perhaps, is its choice of venue for the final showdown
with Liverpudlian fighter 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan (played with arrogant swagger by real life boxer Tony Bellew). Eschewing the familiar and usual Las Vegas
venues for the considerably less glamorous Goodison Park (god knows what Everton fans will make of the lone Liverpool scarf-waving fan who conspicuously
pops up in the background in several shots). That decision aside (the one time Stallone's presence as producer feels most dominant, having had an
association with Everton for several years), Creed is surprisingly good entertainment. It also marks Coogler as a director to watch, as comfortable and
assured on a bigger budget project as he was on a small indie (and if you haven't seen Fruitvale Station you really should).