REVIEW: Creed (12A) ****

PA Photo/Warner Bros.
PA Photo/Warner Bros.
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Almost 40 years since Sylvester Stallone first donned his boxing gloves as Rocky Balboa, the Oscar-nominated actor delivers an emotional wallop as the retired prizefighter in Ryan Coogler’s brooding and testosterone-fuelled drama.

It’s a glorious return to form for the 69-year-old New Yorker, delivering one of his finest performances for decades as the iconic bruiser who faces a battle of attrition against an invisible adversary that can’t be outmuscled in the ring.

With a revitalised Stallone in its corner, Creed taps into four decades of nostalgia, but as the title intimates, Balboa isn’t the main attraction.

Instead, writer-director Coogler focuses on the ascendance of a young brawler (Michael B Jordan), whose tragic past is inextricably linked with Rocky’s fading glory.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition and the script, co-written by Aaron Covington, focuses heavily on the surrogate father-son relationship that underpins the usual array of training sequences and bruising skirmishes.

Sadly, the meticulous attention to detail of the breathlessly staged fights, including one set piece shot in a single take, doesn’t extend to the characterisation.

Jordan overcomes his protagonist’s woes with scant blood, sweat or tears and a romantic subplot between the title character and a feisty singer-songwriter (Tessa Thompson) pulls its punches.

On these counts, Creed is a lightweight.

As an orphan growing up in 1990s Los Angeles, Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) ricochets between juvenile detention centres and care homes, until Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) takes him in.

She is the first wife of his father, boxing legend Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born.

Mary Anne nurtures Adonis and he blossoms into a caring man (now played by Jordan) with a steady job.

Boxing is in Adonis’ blood and he turns down a promotion to chase his sporting dreams.

‘I didn’t take you in for you to go backwards. You’re better than this!’ despairs Mary Anne.

Unperturbed, Adonis heads to Philadelphia to seek out Rocky (Stallone), in the hope the boxing legend will become his trainer.

Despite initial misgivings, Rocky mentors Adonis and when the newcomer lands a lucrative televised bout with Liverpudlian hard man ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), the scene is set for a classic showdown between cocky champion and underdog.

‘One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time,’ advises Rocky, inspiring his hot-headed protege to step out from the shadow of the father he never knew.

Creed doesn’t deviate too far from a winning formula, allowing Stallone to pass on the mantle to a new generation.

Jordan is an instantly likeable sparring partner and he certainly meets the physical demands of the role with aplomb.

On-screen chemistry between the two men simmers nicely, even when the script descends into cloying sentiment and cliches.