Over the course of five separate decades, and now seven films, the character of Rocky Balboa has become so entrenched in the hearts of filmgoers that his return to the big screen always felt like an inevitability.
Whilst Rocky’s name isn’t the headliner on the film’s poster, his presence in Creed is unmistakable, and Sylvester Stallone will take the plaudits for perhaps his best showing so far as boxing’s pluckiest fighter. At the 1977 Oscars Sly bagged himself a nomination for Best Actor for his work in Rocky. We may well see him in the running this year in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Fittingly, the most poignant aspect of the film is the exploration of Rocky’s health struggles, which are sensibly introduced in the latter half of the film, allowing the new headliner, Adonis, the room to grow and develop. Michael B. Jordan is introduced as Adonis, the love child of the late Apollo Creed, Rocky’s former best friend who fell at the hands of Russian boxer Ivan Drago – “If he dies, he dies”. Born after his father’s death and as the result of an affair, Adonis is raised as and orphan, unknowing of his heritage until he is taken in by Apollo’s widowed wife.
Like his father before him, he’s born to fight, but whilst he doesn’t want to live off the Creed name, he’s quite happy to use it to coax Rocky into training him on his road to glory as he makes his way towards a title shot. It’s perhaps the most drama heavy of the Rocky films since the 1976 original, and at times it feels fairly dry even, but director Ryan Coogler should be praised for putting the heart ahead of the glitz once more for a series that at times has strayed from its roots. That’s not to say that there aren’t any of the classic montages and heartfelt speeches of old, because there most certainly are, and they’re as effective now as they were in 1976.
Having said that, a little bit more glitz could perhaps have been used in some respects, as in terms of recreating the big fight feel, Creed falls short when viewed in comparison to the majority of its forebears, with a lack of truly memorable opponent for Adonis to square up against working against the film. The Liverpudlian boxer “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) is mostly void of any distinguishable characteristics and is likely to be quickly forgotten, unlike the Ivan Dragos, Clubber Langs and – naturally – Apollo Creeds that have come before him.
It might not reach the levels of unbridled joy that the series has hit previously, but it deals once more with family in a touching manner that has become synonymous with Rocky films. Not just families tied by blood, but also those tied through friendship and in Adonis’s case, adoption. With the supporting cast of Rocky’s family members whittled down to none, it becomes about those bonds which Rocky has lost, what those bonds have meant to him and what they continue to mean. He becomes the support for Adonis in his search for love, family, and success, acting with a combination of the traits that Adrian, Paulie and Mickey taught him way back when.
Adonis Creed is not Rocky Balboa, but his journey and motivations mirror those of his mentors. It’s a thoroughly tried and tested underdog tale, but Adonis proves to be an underdog worth rooting for. Perhaps after another six films getting to know him I’ll come to care as much about Adonis as I do Rocky. Importantly though, I’d be more than happy to spend more time in his company – especially if he brings “Uncle” Rocky back into his corner once again.
Rating (out of 5):