Legacy sequels are now big business for studios. Just look at the runaway success of The Force Awakens and it's clear that dormant properties are still a huge pull for audiences. While in some cases it might just be service to nostalgia, in other cases it can be to bring forth a new story with some remaining elements.
Creed follows on from 2006's slight return Rocky Balboa and lines up Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed. From the very outset, it's clear that Michael B. Jordan's character has fighting in his blood. Having been rescued from a juvenile facility by Phylicia Rashad, Adonis grows to become a responsible adult with a steady job who, on the weekends, flies down to Mexico to compete in unlicensed boxing. When it becomes clear that he can longer continue to deny his talents or drive to become a boxer, he sets off for Philadelphia and seeks out Rocky Balboa, the only man to topple his father. Hereluctantly agrees to train Adonis, who fights under a different name as he wishes to distance himself from his father's achievements and take out on his own. Despite this, it soon becomes clear that he is Apollo's son and captures the attention of the sports world. Parallel to this, Creed strikes up a relationship with a young woman who's forging her own career, like him, and fighting an uphill struggle whilst doing so.
Ryan Coogler debuted with 2013's fantastic Fruitvale Station and was the driving force behind getting Creed made. It's clear that he's in love with the story, but is keen to stress that Creed is not an addendum to the Rocky saga. Instead, it's just the beginning of Creed's journey. Blending similar visuals to the first Rocky with an updated, gritty vision of life on the fringe, Creed crackles with authenticity and that same boundless optimism of the series. The fight sequences are cleanly staged; every punch and jab is felt and the sound design bursts out with impact whilst the soundtrack has that same soaring flamboyancy of the original. There are some moments where the visual metaphors are a little heavy-handed, one including Jordan shadow-boxing a projection of his father, but it's all in good spirit.
Michael B. Jordan's characterisation of Adonis Creed is interesting. While it might slightly labour the point, living in the huge shadow of Apollo Creed brings with it a chip on the shoulder. He uses that to force himself on and the film's emotional climax feels hard-fought when it comes. Stallone, meanwhile, gives his best performance in twenty years. Time and distance has given him a gravitas that you wouldn't expected, adding a measure of stillness and solemnity to a film that could have easily gotten carried away with itself. There's no real protagonist here, save for the looming presence of his father. There's a brilliant scene towards the end, using vintage footage, that really brings it home. Phylicia Rashad, likewise, has a stillness and maturity to her that's in direct contrast to Johnson's fiery ambition.
As a sports drama, Creed works brilliantly. It honours the traditions of both the genre and the Rocky series whilst bolding moving it in new directions. Sure, it's working off a similar blueprint to Rocky - but so what? The underdog story is as true now as it was then.However, as the first offering in a new series for the character, it falters somewhat. The writing team of Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington will be hard-pressed to recreate the same level of emotion, much like Stallone did when he wrote the first Rocky film. It's a smart, well-made, crowd-pleaser of a film, but can it go the distance and spin out into more films as good as this? Maybe not. Then again, who doesn't like an underdog and who doesn't like to proved wrong?