“It’s a Rocky film, Jim, but not as we know it. This is way, way better than it has any right to be. Have a watch.” “I dunno, aren’t all those boxing films basically the same?” “Do as you’re told, Jim.”
IF THE Rocky franchise taught us anything over its six films, it’s the idea of mind over matter. Forty years after Stallone KO’d the world by writing, directing and acting himself into public consciousness as the loveable blue-collar pugilist, a seventh chapter has arrived that – whisper it – could be the best of the lot. You’d think the brand had surely been exhausted.
Writer-director Ryan Coogler impressed with his feature debut Fruitvale Station (2013), and it is to him that the Rocky baton is passed. Coogler surrounds himself with talent – co-writer Aaron Covington, cinematographer Maryse Alberti, Fruitvale… and The Wire star Michael B. Jordan, Stallone himself – and proceeds to revamp the title while also keeping the spirit of the original intact.
Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the estranged illegitimate son of Apollo who is adopted into opulence by the late boxer’s widow. He leaves his high-paying job to scratch an unquenchable itch to become a boxer, decamping to Philadelphia and training day-in, day-out. His desire for greatness brings him to Adrian’s restaurant and its owner, Rocky Balboa (Stallone). After much nagging, Rocky agrees to coach the young fighter ahead of a bout with a trash-talking world light heavyweight champion.
All the obligatory boxing film ingredients are thus present and accounted for, but Coogler’s film reveals a level of sophistication that is arresting. For starters, Adonis’s love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is not just a supportive babe in his corner and instead has her own ambitions and demons. Adonis’s roots eat away at him and provide grist to his mill, especially when word gets out about who his father was. The excellent fight scenes actually feel being in a ring with real boxers.
Lo and behold, a point arrives in Creed where you feel are less watching another Rocky film than the sequel that should have been made years ago. Stallone, who has just received his first Oscar nod since Rocky itself, is a revelation. You can tell the character still means a great deal to him all these years later.
First published in the Sunday Independent