Sorry Raging Bull, but Creed is the most impressive boxing drama I’ve ever seen. Director Ryan Coogler—who stunned the world two years before Creed with his incredibly touching debut film, Fruitvale Station—deploys Michael B. Jordan yet again for this spinoff of the legendary Rocky series. And yet, nothing about this film draws upon antiquated ideas or styles. It is shockingly novel, with cutting-edge technical aspects and a sense of realism that really makes boxing easier to appreciate on screen. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti and her work are living proof that you don’t have to feature a boxing genius like Floyd Mayweather to convey the beauty of this sport as an art form. This, combined with Coogler’s meticulous sense of realism, engenders extremely realistic fight experiences from a perspective that you’ll never be able to encounter anywhere else.

In contrast to Creed II—whose change in director rendered an unrealistic work, with fights that were defined by continuous headshots delivered by each boxer—the fights here are incredibly realistic. MBJ aside, all of the boxers in the film are real professional boxers. So most punches are blocked or deflected, and when a good blow comes out of nowhere, you truly feel it. This is manifested in one of the early fights (see the link above), which unfolds in a 4-minute scene where the camera never pans away a single time. It is one take. The camera remains fixated on the fighters the whole time, with no cuts or special effects. It is one of the most impressive scenes ever in that sense. I tip my hat to MBJ for his boxing technique as Adonis Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed.

That unprecedented scene is just one aspect, though. Creed is stunning in other ways (as shown in the scene above). It pays homage to the Rocky soundtracks while also reinventing them. The score deploys the brass instruments and orchestral sounds that marked an iconic era of the Rocky series. And yet, those elements are mixed with modern hip-hop splenidly. Then there is the screenplay. Coogler’s work is well-paced, with enough twists to keep you alert and enough conflict to conjure engagement. The story pans out well, with Adonis rising to stardom thanks to his coach: Rocky. And the final fight is glorious. It is as stunning as the aforementioned fight scene. So ultimately, Creed is a surprise. It may seem like just another once-trendy film. Perhaps I’m even being generous with my rating. Still, Creed has layers of subtle artistry that every film snob will admire. You just have to look carefully.

Rating: 8.5/10