POSITIVE reviews for the latest Rocky franchise episode Creed have flagged it up as a strong entry to the series and even an Academy Awards contender.

It’s 39 years after the original Rocky premiered in New York City; its star, Sylvester Stallone, turned 69 in July 2015.

Where 2009’s Rocky Balboa saw its title character come out of retirement for one final bout, Creed marks a passing of the baton as Rocky becomes mentor to a younger pugilist, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan).

Behind the scenes, there’s also a handing over of the reins, with writing credits on Creed going to someone other than Stallone — that’s actually a first for the seven-film series.

Instead, relatively unknown director Ryan Coogler fashioned the story and co-wrote a screenplay; Stallone stays involved as a principal actor and producer.

And Creed has come away winning in several key departments.

French cinematographer Maryse Alberti (Velvet Goldmine, The Wrestler) caught The Hollywood Reporter’s eye with a favorable mention; for one sequence in particular, her camera “mov[ed] around the ring in a manner as agile as the boxers themselves and always catching the key action.”

Coogler, too, acquits himself especially well, with Creed considered “sturdy and smooth”; Tessa Thompson of Dear White People and Selma, here as Adonis’s love interest Bianca, “seriously brightens every scene she’s in.”

Less enraptured with Coogler’s direction, and much less tolerant of the story’s formula was ‘The Wrap’: “A reverent [franchise] entry but never a truly refreshed one,” it said. “One more by-the-numbers ‘Rocky’ retread.”

Nevertheless, “Jordan’s commanding physique and Alberti’s nimble cinematography” make for a “fleet, visual immediacy” to the action.

Real-life champ Tony Bellew delivers a “perma-snarl performance” that, if not up to those of Mr. T or Dolph Lundgren of Rocky past, fit the part in a “grin-worthy” manner.

In contrast, ‘Variety’ devoted not one but two pieces to the film’s praises.

“Ryan Coogler confirms every bit of promise he displayed in Fruitvale Station,” reports its Senior Features Writer, praising Creed from the off as a “smart, kinetic, exhilaratingly well-crafted piece of mainstream filmmaking.”

As for Stallone, “the veteran channels all his obvious love for the [Rocky] character into his performance, digging deeper as an actor than he has in years,” and Variety’s Co-Awards Editor goes one further in a companion piece.

“Few [2015] performances pack the emotional punch Sylvester Stallone does in Creed,” he argues, and here’s the stunner: “this is a left hook to the face of an already stacked [Best Supporting Actor] category,” he writes, tipping Stallone for Oscar success.

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