creedI, II, Rocky Balboa, IV, III, V. Or maybe I’d swap IV and III around. And maybe I’d swap I and II. I dunno. Either way, I love Rocky movies. Even when they’re bad, I still love them. So, Creed then. Or for all intents and purposes, Rocky VII. Where does this fit in to the mix?

Well, pretty high up, to be honest. The focus, as the title suggests, has shifted on to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of former world champion Apollo Creed who died way back at the start of IV, before Don was born. After a tough start in life, we find him in pretty good shape: successful in work, living very comfortably off his father’s wealth, harboring a peculiar habit and penchant for heading to Tijuana at the weekend to box Mexicans. To each their own, I guess.

Unfulfilled with this life for whatever reason, he packs in the job, bids his disapproving mother and Mexico a fond cheerio, and heads to Philadelphia to talk Rocky into training him for the big time.

Rocky, for his part, is happily seeing out his remaining years working in his restaurant. He hasn’t talked to Apollo’s widow since the funeral, he hasn’t been to Mickey’s gym in years. His wife and brother-in-law are dead. But it isn’t long before, with very little coaxing, he’s talked into coaching the kid. It wouldn’t be much of a movie if he’d said no.

Enter Bianca (Tessa Thompson) at this point; Don’s love interest, local singer who is gradually going deaf and who serves as a warbling metaphor for enjoying your talent while you have it, because no matter how great your love, you’re going to lose it sooner or later.

Meanwhile, in one of several nods to the original Rocky, the current world champion is desperately seeking a new contender for his final hoorah and the prospect of Creed’s son, coached by Balboa, proves too tasty to resist.

As you’ve perhaps gathered, there’s nothing particularly original about most of this, but writer and director Ryan Coogler obviously loves the series as much as I do, so it’s done with a certain flare, warmth, and charm. The fight scenes, surely the key to any boxing movie, are done brilliantly, particularly the middle one where the camera never seems more than a few feet away from the blood and sweat, dragging the audience into the ring, leaving everyone in need of a shower afterwards.

Sylvester Stallone is seldom better than he is when he’s playing the Italian Stallion and he’s great in this outing. All those amusing mumbling asides, like when he’s wondering if they’ve installed more steps at the Art Museum, are as endearing now as they were thirty-nine years ago when he once queried the location of Adrian’s hat.

My only real issue with the movie is that every time it had a chance to deliver a knockout punch, it flinched. Don’s motivation is one example. Rocky’s is another. Additionally, preparation never feels complete, montages are missing the final image, and montage music stops abruptly when, as we all know, it should always — always — fade out. In boxing parlance, what we have here is a potential KO in the third round, but it ended up being a split decision on points. But it’s still a win.

So to update, then. I, II, Creed, Rocky Balboa, IV, III, V. Or maybe I’d swap Creed and Rocky Balboa. Gimme a minute. I’ll get back to you.

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