A decade since 2006's Rocky VI, better known as Rocky Balboa, and we're finally reunited with Sylvester Stallone's iconic eponymous boxer, as we return to that world for this year's Rocky spin-off. But, can this film stand alone on its own merit or does the legacy and the name haunt it? Kicking off the new year is my first review for 2016: Ryan Coogler's Creed.

The Rocky franchise has cemented itself a place in cinematic history. However, I only really like one or two of the films; the rest of the franchise is pretty repetitive and typical for this genre. The thing with boxing films is that they can be really great but, if not, they feel formulaic and methodical - take a look at last Summer's Southpaw as evidence. It's a paint-by-numbers genre of film and only a few films really truly standout. The original 1976 Rocky is an example of a great boxing flick, as is Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby or David O'Russell's The Fighter. And, now, Ryan Coogler's Creed is another one that can be added to this list. The Rocky franchise has been reinvigorated with one of the best boxing films in half a decade! Creed is phenomenal. This film is emotional, raw and real and has landed itself a place, amongst the other genre greats, as a classic - this is today's generation's underdog story; their Rocky.

Having lost his mother at a young age, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) constantly found himself in trouble, starting fights and ending up in foster care or juvenile detention. After a fight with another boy, he is approached by a woman who tells him that her late husband was his father - revealing that Johnson is the son of the legendary boxing champion Apollo Creed - so takes him in and raises him. Wanting to pursue boxing and make his name on his own, Adonis heads out to Philadelphia and seeks out his father's former rival and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. When it's revealed that Johnson is Creed's son, he is offered a title shot against the current world champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Training with Rocky, Johnson prepares to break out of the shadow of his father's legend that he's been caught in and make his own legacy, for more than just a name.
The theme of this film is almost, to some extent, quite meta - the idea of being shadowed by a name. Here, the film Creed is shadowed by the Rocky franchise. The idea of Adonis making it on his own terms and not because of his father's legacy almost mirrors this film standing out for its own merits and not being caught in the shadow of the original franchise's legacy. However, being a spin-off to one of this genre's most iconic characters and franchises, comparisons to the original Rocky films cannot be avoided. But, it's not a bad thing. Creed takes all the elements of those films that made them so good whilst still adding enough new, unique ideas to keep things fresh. Coogler manages to keep the spirit of the original films and blends the old with the new, delivering lots of fan-service and nostalgia to the Rocky franchise - but never lets it get too much - whilst still keeping things unique and giving Creed its own identity. It's great to once again see Mighty Mick's Boxing gym on the big-screen but we never dwell there too long; or we reminisce the Apollo and Rocky fight from Rocky IV but it doesn't influence the film too much. This is a film featuring Rocky Balboa so there's going to be call-backs, for sure, but he's just a supporting player here; the spotlight belongs to Michael Jordan's Adonis here and, despite being Apollo Creed's son, it's not something that lingers around too much.

As far as Jordan's eponymous boxer goes, he's a very relatable and real character. We empathise for him and everything he has been through and we root for him to succeed; a testament to just how well Coogler wrote the character. By the time of the credits roll, we're so invested into his story and his fighting career and feel as though we know so much about him and Jordan crushes it in the role. He embodies the role and everything this character and this franchise stands for and you can't help but root for and want to see him win. He brings a lot of charisma and heart to the young fighter and his performance is inspiring and riveting. Sylvester Stallone is the standout here though. Stallone just disappears into his iconic character so easily that when he first appears, you don't need to adjust to Stallone, you instantly only recognise him as Rocky Balboa. He gives one of the best performances of his career and deserves all the Oscar buzz, for supporting actor, for sure. Stallone brings enough charisma and wit and emotion to the table to drive his performance. You root for him, you empathise for him and you're excited to see him finally back.

Everything about Creed is great. The acting is stunning and the premise is awe-inspiring and poignant and executed with such finesse. Coogler's direction is elegant and stylish and his craftsmanship is smart and energetic. His script is compelling and the dialogue between the characters feels so genuine yet is so subdued and compelling at the same time. The writer-director follows up his sparkling debut Fruitvale Station very impressively, showing us that he's a true artist behind the camera and a director to get excited about. He lets his talents shine in a kinetic, fast-paced and slick piece of cinema. The cinematography is dazzling and this film looks meticulous and stylish; the fight sequences directed to such perfection - a standout sequence is equally as exhilarating as it is impressive, shot in one-take and so fun to watch. If there's a fault to be found with Creed, it's that the ending feels rushed and the use of one of the genre's most frustrating clich├ęs doesn't do Coogler's work much justice. It's an overplayed beat that was okay the first couple of times it was used but now feels dishonourable to the story this time around.

In the end, though, Creed is a remarkable boxing drama. It's entertaining and fun, whilst still being equally emotional and resonating. Jordan and Stallone are both great and bring a lot to the proceedings, but the real star is Ryan Coogler who has crafted such a stylish and impressive piece of film that does justice and honour to its origins, the original Rocky franchise, whilst still standing out on its own as a genuinely good, unique film.

VERDICT:
The legacy lives on as Creed reinvigorates the Rocky franchise with what is a dazzling boxing drama. Heartfelt, inspiring, fun and emotional, this the best Rocky film since the original. Ryan Coogler has knocked it out of the park.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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