Creed ★★★★½

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone scripted an underdog tale whose critical & commercial success emulated its very own story, for Rocky was hailed by many as the perfect exemplification of the American dream and turned Stallone into a major star. The sequels then began a quality slump and the franchise slowly faded into oblivion until in 2006, Stallone resurrected Balboa for one final round & delivered a knockout that concluded the whole saga on a perfect note, something this cultural icon always deserved.

Now Creed at first felt like a misstep after Rocky Balboa but Ryan Coogler has pulled off a rare miracle in this era of sequels, prequels, remakes & spin-offs, for his latest film emerges as the surprise package of this year and is an underdog story for the ages that treats the legacy of Rocky with utmost respect yet has its own identity, thus working as that cinematic moment where the baton is passed from the old to the new. A perfect homage to that quintessential sports drama, Creed has that same old blood flowing in its veins, albeit in a new body.

A spin-off from the original Rocky series, Creed tells the story of Adonis "Donnie" Johnson, the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed who wants to step into his late father's footsteps and become a professional boxer. Quitting his stable job to pursue his dreams, Adonis moves to Philadelphia in order to get in touch with his father's old pal & rival Rocky Balboa, and tries to coerce the retired boxing legend into training him. Refusing at first, Balboa eventually agrees to mentoring Adonis but when his real identity is leaked, an unexpected offer arrives out of nowhere.

Co-written & directed by Ryan Coogler, who made his breakthrough with Fruitvale Station a couple of years ago, Creed is only his sophomore effort yet it's some leap for this promising new talent as Coogler takes a very risky route by attempting to script the next chapter of a beloved franchise but it all works out amazingly well in the end. The script is as good as his direction, for the characters are nicely fleshed out while Rocky Balboa's arc is handled with great care as Coogler approaches his character from a fresh angle. And while a number of parallels emerge between Creed & Rocky, Coogler's film is entirely his own.

The technical aspects are skilfully executed & there are plenty of moments that evoke only admiration. With majority of its plot taking place in Philadelphia, its street culture & notable landmarks are sensibly incorporated into the picture. Cinematography is highly impressive as the camera moves around with kinetic frenzy while capturing each moment in splendid detail but the highlight is an entire boxing match shot in one unbroken take. Editing keeps the plot tightly-knitted, provides ample screen time to each character & steadily paces the story. The soundtrack includes a few tracks from the original series but for the most part, it's an original composition.

Coming to the performances, Creed features a devoted cast in Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad & Tonny Bellew, and every one of them delivers the goods. Jordan further strengthens his acting résumé with another fantastic performance as Adonis but supporting him on the exact same level is Stallone who reprises his signature role of Rocky Balboa and it's been a while since we've seen him deliver such an emotionally powerful performance. Thompson plays Adonis' love interest but even her character sufficient depth, thus making her role a bit more relevant. But it's the terrific chemistry between Jordan & Stallone that steals the show.

On an overall scale, Creed is an absolute knockout that borrows the right ingredients from its predecessors, knows where exactly to draw the line, successfully steers its franchise to a new direction, and manages to be just as rewarding for newcomers as it is for fans of the original series. While the boxing matches brim with adrenaline-rush & testosterone-fuelled excitement, the strongest aspect of Creed is the mentor-disciple bond between Adonis & Rocky as it is the core element that makes this movie work on so many levels. With clear understanding of what Rocky was all about, Creed perfectly recycles its source material for the new generation of filmgoing audience and is one of the best films of the year, one of the best sports drama in recent memory & quite possibly the best start there ever has been for a spin-off series. Definitely, delightfully & very highly recommended.

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