When Creed was released last November in the US, Sylvester Stallone was keen to expel any notions of it being the next installment in the Rocky franchise. But Stallone, who is both in the cast and production team of Creed, isn’t trying to distance a poor cousin from its rich and successful family. No, the legendary Rocky actor knows that Ryan Coogler’s offshoot deserves to be known as a great sports film in its own right. And there won’t be many Rocky fans who disagree.
The story takes place within the world of the Rocky films. Aspiring boxer Adonis Johnson (Michael B Johnson) is the illegitimate son of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and seeks out his father’s great rival and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. This link is presented in a convincing enough manner for even the most stubborn of Rocky fans, and the two set out with the aim of establishing a boxing career for Adonis, without the name of his father.
Although Creed naturally follows a familiar path, the plot nevertheless succeeds in reeling in its audience. This is mainly due to its surprisingly genuine tone, with a naturalistic script that, for the most part, avoids the usual clichés of a rags-to-riches sports film. Michael B Johnson is a man who regularly appears in GQ and Time lists of the most stylish men alive, but here he retains a curious level of fallibility beneath his outrageous coolness, thus attracting plenty of audience sympathy. Simply observing Adonis’s backstage preparations before the big fight is enough for his own pre-match butterflies to flutter into every stomach watching.
The result of all this is a carefully constructed alternate boxing world, full of local Philadelphia authenticity and global media modernity. A contemporary hip-hop soundtrack featuring pump-up songs by The Roots and 2Pac leads to some irresistibly epic training montages, also adding to the sense that we are truly in the modern day; this is a Rocky for the next generation, obvious from the moment Adonis shadow-boxes a YouTube clip of his father’s fight with Rocky Balboa.
Just like Adonis Johnson’s battle to escape the legacy of his heavyweight father, Creed has the task of evading the shadows of Rocky. One well-timed reference to the original theme tune ensures it respects its roots, but this is a film undoubtedly worthy of its own name.
Creed is released nationwide on 15th January 2016.
Watch the trailer for Creed here: