There are people around today who think that Sly Stallone's biggest claim to fame is the Expendables films. But Rocky – which came out in 1976, was made for a mere $1m but made $225m worldwide, and won the Oscar for Best Picture that year – is the film that made Stallone (who also wrote it) a star. He went on to play boxer Robert "Rocky" Balboa in five more Rocky films (writing all five and directing four) and retired the character in the 2006 entry, Rocky Balboa.
Thankfully, writer-director Ryan Coogler managed to talk Stallone into bringing Rocky out of retirement for Creed. It more of a spinoff than a direct sequel to the Rocky films, and tells the story of Adonis Johnson (Jordan), boxer Apollo Creed's son from an extramarital affair – heavyweight champion Apollo, played by Carl Weathers, fought Rocky in the first two films and trained him in the third. Adonis is determined to follow in his legendary father's footsteps, and tracks down Rocky to ask him to coach him. Rocky is at first resistant, preferring the quiet life away from the ring, running his restaurant, Adrian's (which we first saw in 2006's Rocky Balboa). But Donnie's persistence pays off, and Rocky softens and takes him on. Together they work to get Donnie ready for his first big fight, against world light heavyweight champ "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Bellew).
Creed may appear on the surface to be just another sports movie, but it is so much more than that. First, it's a film about the battles we all face in our life. It's not just his physical opponents in the ring that Adonis must fight, but also his father’s legacy. And Rocky has to battle his declining health and the fact that he is getting older (those closest to him are now dead. It's also a film about believing in yourself, and doing all you can to achieve your goals. At one point in the climactic fight with Conlan, when Adonis is taking a right beating, Rocky wants to throw in the towel, but Donnie says: "Let me finish, I've got to prove it." "Prove what?" asks Rocky. "I'm not a mistake."
Coogler worked with Jordan on the acclaimed true-life drama Fruitvale Station, and he is also the creative force behind Creed, which he co-wrote with Covington. There's a certain amount of baggage that comes with a project such as this, but Coogler manages to rise above it and put his own stamp on the film, which proves to be more than just a cynical attempt to revive a franchise that we all thought was long gone. Having an incredible talent such as Jordan in the lead role certainly helps – he talks the talk and walks the walk, making us truly believe that he could hold his own in the boxing ring. The real surprise is Stallone, who had to be talked into returning to the character that made him famous. He turns in one of the best performances that we have seen from him in many years, and it's clear that he still harbours a deep, abiding love for battle-weary Rocky Balboa. Coogler is clearly paying homage to the Rocky films, but he brings enough freshness, modernity and, yes, punch to breathe new life into the series. The fight sequences, too, are beautifully shot – you actually feel as though you are in the ring alongside the combatants.
Even though it follows many of the same beats as the original Rocky (even going as far as having a training montage set to music) Creed is very much its own beast. It's fun (and often funny), exhilarating, emotional, exciting, electrifying, smart and very, very life-affirming. And when the Rocky theme kicks in, you are guaranteed to get a lump in your throat. Creed is a triumph.