Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Coogler draws on the traditional elements of Rocky's success - strength of character in adversity, old-fashioned romance and, of course, a climactic fight - and tricks them out for the mobile phone generation to give them a new lease of life."

There's nothing wrong with sticking a formula if its a winning one. And though the latest instalment in the Rocky franchise is written by Fruitvale Station's Ryan Coogler and first-timer Aaron Covington it has the essential magic ingredient - Sylvester Stallone's carefully drawn characters that have been marinating nicely in age and experience since Rocky Balboa threw his first punch 40 years ago.

Being relieved of writing duties for the first time seems to give Stallone new impetus as the magnificent mumbler turns in a (now Golden Globe winning) supporting performance that is his best in years and every bit as weighty in terms of emotion as the central role.

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There are echoes of the earlier films everywhere, particularly in terms of locations and the score by Ludwig Goransson - who collaborated with Coogler on Fruitvale Station - which uses snippets from the original films but strikes out in a fresh direction. Coogler, similarly, draws on the traditional elements of Rocky's success - strength of character in adversity, old-fashioned romance and, of course, a climactic fight - and tricks them out for the mobile phone generation to give them a new lease of life.

Creed is the surname of the new kid on the block (Michael B Jordan), whom we first meet in flashback when he was plain old Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Alex Henderson, making a big impression in a small role) in juvenile detention, where his fist fights speak louder than words. It turns out that boxing is in his blood when Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) turns up to tell him the truth - that he is the illegitimate son of former heavyweight champ Apollo Creed - and offers him a fresh start.

Seventeen years later, Donnie is finding success in the corporate world pales in comparison to his weekends spent in dodgy bouts down Mexico way and decides, against the wishes of his adoptive mum, to head to Philadelphia in the hopes of persuading his dad's old pal Rocky to help him become a champion. Rocky is less than enamoured by the prospect but is won over by Donnie's tenacity and burgeoning talent. As their surrogate dad-son relationship starts to blossom, Donnie also strikes up a romance with his neighbour Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who sings for a living despite progressive hearing loss. That relationship may sound as though it is a box-ticking exercise, but Coogler makes sure it lives and breathes. Their meet-cute - as a result of noisy music - is believable and the writer/director includes enough romantic interplay to make us believe in their bond, without getting so bogged down it will turn off action fans. The natural beats extend to Rocky's character, with a scene in which he chats to Adrian and Paulie in the local graveyard a masterclass in economy - the mere sight of him retrieving a well-worn chair from the tree where he stashes it tells us all we need to know about the frequency of his visits.

Real-life British cruiserweight boxer Tony Bellew plays Donnie's ring rival 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan - the fact he isn't a professional actor doesn't matter much, since it is his punches that are left to do the talking most of the time. In true Rocky style, it is the challenges outside the ring that are key to the pull of the film, with Donnie struggling to get out of the shadow of his father's legacy and Rocky facing an altogether more personal test of strength.

The runtime is a little long for the subject matter, but Coogler has a good eye for a strong image, such as Rocky and Donnie shadow boxing or effective later scenes at the boxer's bout in Liverpool with Ricky. There is something distinctly British about the crowds, with Coogler again showing an ability to keep things feeling 'real', so that although there is humour there is never any sort of pastiche. The director shows respect to the Rocky brand and ideas without becoming a slave to them - like a world-class music sampler, he draws on the beat of the past in order to create something original and distinctive.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2016
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Apollo Creed's illegitimate son begs his dad's former friend and rival Rocky to train him in the ring.
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Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, based on characters by Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob 'Stitch' Duran, Graham McTavish, Malik Bazille, Ricardo McGill, Gabe Rosado, Wood Harris, Buddy Osborn, Rupal Pujara

Year: 2015

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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