*** (out of five)
Clearly building a foundation for a franchise that can live forever, Creed sees Rocky Balboa training the son of his former opponent Apollo Creed to follow in his father’s footsteps – that is, into the professional ring. It’s got a terrific fight at the end, and all the proceeding stuff is professional and clear, while never being anything approaching thrilling or surprising.
Creed’s son is played by Michael B. Jordan, re-teaming with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the somewhat meandering screenplay with Aaron Covington. Jordan’s fine, as is (dead ringer for a young Lisa Bonet) Tessa Thompson as his love interest, a DJ called Bianca. They have a funny moment on a couch that is capped by a slow pan up to a turtle, his neck and head vein-poppingly erect in the most blatant and risible phallic symbol I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.
Stallone’s fine too, looking stocky and well. It’s impossible to guess his age now; he seems to have moved into an ageless twilight for the well-built. Perhaps thanks to Coogler, this time around he enunciates enough for us to understand every single one of his lines, perhaps a career first.
The best – and topically authentic-feeling – slice of the film is the antagonist opponent, Englishman “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, played exceptionally by three time ABA Heavyweight Champion Tony Bellew (as is his his trainer/manager played by Scottish Graham McTavish, who was also in Rambo). Unlike Rocky IV’s cold-war side-taking, England itself is not here singled out for villainy, even as Conlan kind of is. His cold murderous pre-fight stare is truly terrifying, and the press conference scenes echo many we’ve seen in real life, but more articulately. This is a boxing movie with a surprisingly good vocabulary.