|'A genuine breath of fresh air: a film that feels as though it was genuinely made to reinvigorate a much-loved franchise left, if not for dead then certainly dormant, at arguably its lowest ebb'.|
To believe that Creed was given the green light by MGM without considering the profit that would undoubtedly come from a seventh instalment in the Rocky saga would be incredibly naive; but witnessing the immense heart and spirit of those involved, it's easy to see the film as a passion project for writer and director Ryan Coogler. With seemingly any franchise potentially up for grabs now to have a new and updated version thrust upon the viewing public, Creed is a genuine breath of fresh air: a film that feels as though it was genuinely made to reinvigorate a much-loved franchise left, if not for dead then certainly dormant, at arguably its lowest ebb.
Any issues here are ones currently shared by many in the current crop of franchise restarters. Whilst Coogler purposefully includes echoes of the original Rocky within Creed, his script, co-written with Aaron Covington, occasionally becomes a little too reminiscent of the first film's story for its own good. The director also feels too eager to bring Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) together during the opening act, rushing through one or two other elements - particularly that of the relationship between Adonis and Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), his adoptive mother - giving Coogler and his cast more work to do later on to remedy the director's haste.
As a continuation of Coogler's partnership with lead Jordan after their first collaboration on 2013's Fruitvale Station, this a confident and mature sophomore feature for the young pair. Coogler steps up to the big budget style of Creed with impressive composure, whilst maintaining the cinematic intimacy and tenacity of his debut. The director's debut proved he can do character-based drama, a skill re-emphasised here; Coogler also demonstrates a real knack for the more spectacular within Creed, crafting both of the key boxing matches within the film with directorial flair. Jordan, meanwhile, consistently delivers a resolute and authentic performance in the lead, vehemently sweeping away any lingering doubts following his turn in the universally derided Fantastic Four last year - a credit that will surely be viewed in years to come as a minor blip in the early career of a major player on the big screen.
Whether you view Creed as a spin-off or a soft reboot of the Rocky series, there are valid reasons that Coogler's film isn't "Rocky VII". Yes, Rocky Balboa is both present and important within the film, but this is not his story. Whilst Creed pays its respects to the Rocky films that come before it, the focus here is clearly on Adonis Johnson, and the film is all the better for it. It's a move Stallone should have made himself at least a decade ago with Rocky Balboa, if not earlier.
That said, perhaps playing Rocky without the additional responsibility writing or directing is fundamental to Stallone delivering his most impressive performance since Cop Land nearly twenty years ago, and arguably his best in this franchise since the original film. The veteran actor successfully brings Rocky full circle through an understated performance that satisfyingly balances pathos and humour. Whilst his Best Supporting Actor nod at this year's Oscars feels more like a nomination for "lifetime achievement", that shouldn't take away from the fact that this is Stallone ably demonstrating he can still very much deliver when called upon as he nears his seventieth birthday.