Rocky: The Creed Awakens is the first must-see movie of 2016. Here's our review.
A couple of months back when I was compiling our list of 12 must-see movies for 2016 there were a few films that nearly made the cut. Creed, however, was not even in contention. I knew it was coming but I also knew it was starring the bloke from Fantastic Four (and we all know how good
that was!), and, by the look of the trailer, Sylvester Stallone was only
going to be popping up for a glorified cameo appearance. Simply put, I had it pegged as a last-ditch effort to squeeze the final pennies out of a failing franchise.
I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
When I tell anyone just how great Creed is, which I've been doing a lot over the last 48 hours, I get a similar response from most - one of shock. I think this is because people don't really remember the rawness of Rocky, as in the 1976 Academy Award winning original, but they remember the ridiculousness of the Rocky franchise. Like the time when Rocky fought Mr. T and Hulk Hogan, or when he owned a talking robot, or when he fought and beat that Russian dude who was about 2ft taller and 6 classes above his weight, or when he lost all his money for reasons (?) and brawled in the street with Tommy "The Machine" Gunn, or that time when at the age of 76, or thereabouts, Rocky got back in the ring to go toe to toe with the current heavyweight champion of the world. (For the record, I'm not knocking the ridiculousness. Four of the five sequels are insanely entertaining, but as a whole they really are quite, quite ridiculous). But go back to 1976 and watch Rocky, the film that rightly beat Taxi Driver and All The Presidents Men to be named Best Picture at the 1977 Academy Awards, and then book your ticket and go see Creed as it's hands down the best Rocky movie since the original.
Creed achieves this in much the same way as another film which is proving to be sorta popular at the box-office right now, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Both movies are the seventh installment in the saga, both present us with the start of a new hero's journey, both manage to be equal parts sequel and remake, and, possibly most importantly, both are very much directed at the audience of today whilst managing to offer the right amount of fan service to those that have been following the franchise for the last 40 years.
Creed begins about a decade after Rocky IV. We meet Adonis, who is the result of an affair Apollo had shortly before his death. Adonis' mother has passed too, so he's already spent the majority of his young life fighting thanks to years spent in and out of foster care and juvenile detention centres. Apollo’s widow has finally come to terms with her husband's infidelity, she tracks Adonis down and invites him to live with her. This brings us to the present day where Adonis Johnson (his biological mother’s last name) has a well paid desk job at a Los Angeles investment firm, but he's looking for his own identity not the one him 'Mom' has arranged for him. The fighter in him won't let go, so by night he drives to Mexico to participate in back-alley boxing matches. He's got a 15-0 record but no-one interested in training him, so Adonis moves to Philadelphia and tracks down a reluctant Rocky Balboa.
Michael B. Jordan is excellent as Adonis, he's totally believable, likable, and it's captivating to watch his journey. But, and I really don't want to come across too hyperbolic, it's just I can't find another way of putting this, Sylvester Stallone is legitimately wonderful as Rocky. He's had control of the reigns of this franchise for so long now, but here Stallone's turned them over to writer/director Ryan Coogler, and it's Coogler who gets the absolute best performance out of Stallone you've ever seen. It will be a crime if he doesn't at least get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Even though Rocky is essentially stepping into the role of Mickey the trainer,
this is no glorified cameo. Yes we're watching Adonis' journey to make it as a boxer, and thanks to Coogler and Jordan that possibly would've been enough to warrant this film, but there's also a duality between Adonis' and Rocky's story, both are equally important here with both men fighting
their own very different battles. One step, one punch, one round at a time. It gets emotional. And when was the last time you could say that about a Stallone film?
Even though Creed is more of a character driven drama, it gives us some of the best boxing scenes you'll ever likely see. Not only is the choreography excellent, but one of the fights, which goes over two rounds, is filmed with a single continuous tracking shot, right in the centre of the ring, right there in the action. I appreciate that we've come a long way in film-making since the days of the early Rocky movies and other boxing films like Raging Bull, but this was really something else altogether. You can almost feel the punches as they make contact.
Rocky soundtracks have often been steeped in AOR, but Creed offers the perfect blend of R&B befitting of modern day Philadelphia. After all, Creed is Rocky for a new generation. Fear not though, there are still hints of the old Rocky theme in the score, including a perfectly timed moment that I guarantee will have you punching the air. Well, I was anyway.
With spectacular performances from all those involved, both in front of and behind the camera, Creed comes out punching and delivers the most authentic Rocky sequel to date, whilst at the same time feeling like the start of something brand new. Creed quite rightly takes the title of the first must-see movie of 2016.
Creed opens in UK cinemas nationwide from January 15th.