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Film review: Creed deftly blends smarts and corny charm, taking the Rocky legacy to the next level

If the finale in a Rocky movie isn’t gangbusters, you’re sunk – and Coogler (who co-wrote the screenplay) saves his best moves for last, staging a match (kudos also to cinematographer Maryse Alberti) that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Sylvester Stallone, left, reprises his role as Rocky Balboa, but this time as the trainer to Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B Jordan, right, the illegitimate son of Rocky's former nemesis. Barry Wetcher/Warner Brothers Pictures via AP
Sylvester Stallone, left, reprises his role as Rocky Balboa, but this time as the trainer to Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B Jordan, right, the illegitimate son of Rocky's former nemesis. Barry Wetcher/Warner Brothers Pictures via AP

Director: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B Jordan, Tessa Thompson

Four stars

Admit it. When you heard another Rocky movie was on the way – the seventh – you rolled your eyes and thought, “Really? How many Rocky movies do we need?”

Well, it turns out we needed one more. At least.

From its start, in 1976, the Rocky story has been about proving you belong in the ring – not winning, necessarily, but showing you have the credibility to be there in the first place.

And so Creed – directed by the talented Ryan Coogler and starring the fairly irresistible team of Michael B Jordan and (of course) Sylvester Stallone – proves it belongs in the ring right from the get-go.

With a deft blend of smarts and corny charm – this is Rocky – it earns our trust: it’s gonna go to the edge with the heartstrings-tugging, but it won’t go over. So when the old, familiar Rocky fanfare starts playing, we’ll be able to smile – happily, not scornfully. Stallone is now 69, and Creed wisely doesn’t attempt to put his Rocky Balboa back in boxing gloves.

This film is about another fighter: Adonis Johnson. We first meet him as a child in a Los Angeles juvenile detention centre. His life has been hard. He’s the secret, illegitimate son of boxing great Apollo Creed – Rocky’s former nemesis – who died before he was born. But fate smiles on the boy when Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) takes him in.

Fast forward 17 years and Adonis (Jordan, exuding charisma and star power at every turn) is living in a mansion with his adoptive mum and thriving at a finance job. But he can’t shake his passion for boxing – it is in the genes – so he heads to Philadelphia to find the Italian Stallion. He wants to train with the best.

Rocky, now grey, grizzled and weary, declines. “Why,” he asks, “would you pick a fighter’s life when you don’t need to?” But, of course, Adonis wins Rocky over.

And since this is a Rocky movie, it all comes down to an epic, climactic fight. The opponent is a British champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (real-life champ Anthony Bellew). But he imposes a condition: to generate maximum publicity for the fight, Adonis must fight under the Creed name.

If the finale in a Rocky movie isn’t gangbusters, you’re sunk – and Coogler (who co-wrote the screenplay) saves his best moves for last, staging a match (kudos also to cinematographer Maryse Alberti) that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Jordan deserved a good movie after the terrible Fantastic Four and he gets one here.

Stallone delivers a moving turn as a fading legend with one last big fight left in him (or will there be more if this film is a success?)

Together with director Coogler, you could say this trio knock it outta the ring.

* Associated Press

Updated: November 25, 2015 04:00 AM

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