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Creed

Year: 2015
Studio: MGM
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad

2006's Rocky Balboa teetered on the edge of comedy with a sixty-something Stallone dancing around in the ring against a far younger boxer (and it wasn't a very good movie either), so Warner Bros and writer/director Ryan Coogler got the premise right – another Rocky movie about Rocky would have been frankly ridiculous. In order to continue the mythology, making the story about his former friend and trainer Apollo Creed's son Adonis (Michael B Jordan) was a great idea.

Now in his mid 20s and having been bought up by Apollo's wife (Phylicia Rashad, ageless since her years as Mrs Huxtable from The Cosby Show) after she rescued him from a life of delinquency and took him in, Adonis is educated and has never wanted for anything.

But despite never having known his father and not even adopting his name, he wants more than anything to be a fighter. He leaves his cushy life in LA and travels to Philly to find Rocky in his dotage, running his restaurant and reading the paper while he talks about his day to the graves of his wife Adrian and brother in law Paulie.

Convincing Rocky to train him like the older man's mentor Micky once did for him, Adonis prepares to take on the villain, an angry Liverpudlian champ with everything to lose.

Coogler manages to make Creed feel fresh and new even while he adheres to so many of the tropes that have made Rocky movies almost a genre in themselves. Adonis meets the feisty chick in musician Bianca (Tessa Thompson), but after a few scenes of emotion and heavy petting she's reduced to the wife/girlfriend figure who sits at the edge of the ring and covers her mouth, stricken, every time a punch lands. There's even a training montage – in fact, more than one.

The drama is engaging enough, but you'll find yourself focusing on the flaws afterwards. Rocky tells Adonis he's not interested in training him but after a few more attempts by the young man to talk him in to it he's not only doing so and letting Adonis live in his house but considers him family. You're reminded of the convenience store guy Yoda from Family Guy Something Something Something Dark Side when he tells Luke/Chris 'I will not train you... okay I'll train you.'

And while Stallone's performance as the aging champ isn't a flaw by any means (at this point he can play Rocky Balboa with his eyes closed), it's something worth talking about in light of his going home from the 2016 Oscars empty handed when everyone expected him to win Best Supporting Actor.

Way back when Toni Collette did a movie called Japanese Story, critics were raving about her performance. Halfway through the movie she takes her clothes off and shags the male lead, and you suddenly wondered if this was why everybody was calling it such a raw, emotional performance – often getting awards recognition is as easy for a serious actor as taking your clothes off, taking drugs or getting a disease, regardless of the underlying performance.

Happily in Collette's case her role went much further and it was worthy of all the praise. In Stallone's case in Creed it isn't that he's not good, it's just that you can't help wondering if the three quarters reveal (and subsequent make-up effects) is what the Oscar chatter was all about. It's undeniably morose and sweet to see a more fragile Rocky – having grown old enough to have nobody left in his life – his only real company the graves of his wife and her brother, but that's more an achievement of the script than the actor.

Still, whatever stumbles the movie makes in character or drama, it makes up for in spades in the two central boxing match sequences. The first one is particularly brilliant as a single shot where Coogler's camera follows the two fighters into and out of their corners and wheels around and between them as they trade blows, performing a choreographed dance as precise as any musical number.

Creed is a good movie – maybe not a great one. It's the purest Rocky movie since 1982's Rocky III, but considering how many there've been since then, that's not much of an achievement in itself.

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