Creed review: a fresh glint in the eye of the tiger

Creed firmly overthrows any notions that the Rocky films are trading on an elaborate Great White Hope mythology

    
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Tony Bellew
Running Time: 2 hrs 13 mins

Over the years, many cultural commentators have taken issue with the statue of Rocky Balboa – commissioned for Rocky III – which stands in the fictional boxer's native city of Philadelphia. Why celebrate a fabricated pugilist, they argued, when real-life boxing legend Joe Frazier has no such monument?

This oversight, often unfairly cited as evidence of the Rocky series's naive racism, was corrected last year when Smokin' Joe was immortalised in bronze, pulling back on the left hook that floored Muhammad Ali in their 1971 fight.

It has been doubly corrected by the appearance of Rocky 7, a film that firmly overthrows any notions that the Rocky films are trading on an elaborate Great White Hope mythology.

The seventh film to feature what is inarguably Sylvester Stallone’s most beloved screen creation sees the Italian Stallion taking a backseat as the kindly mentor to Adonis Creed (the wildly charismatic Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate offspring of the late Apollo Creed, Rocky’s one-time nemesis turned best pal.


Adonis, or Hollywood Donnie as he is soon known, has promise but will need a few classic Rocky montage sequences if he's going to live up to his surname. Donnie's adopted mother, Creed's widow Mary Anne (The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad) does not approve of his vocation but he soon finds an ally in downstairs neighbour Bianca, a pioneering electro-musician suffering from progressive hearing loss and played beautifully by Dear White People's Tessa Thompson.

Stallone also takes a backseat behind the camera, by leaving writing and directing duties to Ryan Coogler, the young auteur who shot to fame when his debut feature, Fruitvale Station (2013), won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Coogler, to the surprise of no one who saw his first film, proves a smart director, who knows when to play it straight with the Rocky conventions we know and love, and when to render the material as proper heavyweight drama.

We are, by now, accustomed to seeing Rocky going back to his roots by running those museum steps or occasionally punching meat carcasses. But with Creed, the series really has returned to its roots. From the young North Philly bikers who hang around Donnie's gym to the staff of Max's Steaks – a local hotspot for the city's famed cheesesteaks – there's an earthiness and street quality that we haven't witnessed since the 1976 original.

Earlier this week, Stallone deservedly took home a Golden Globe for a role he created almost 40 years ago. It’s a lovely performance, as deft as any of the moves he has ever produced in his imagined fights. Full credit to Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington for making Rocky as smart-dumb as he’s ever been.

Full credit too to Goodison Park, where Everton supporters provide a rousing racket for the final fight scene (against EBU and former WBO International Cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew) and for their fellow Toffee, Sly.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic