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Creed (Blu-ray Review)

26 Feb, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 3/1/16
Box office $109.52 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, language and some sensuality
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew.

While Creed is a sequel in the “Rocky” franchise, it's not so much a “Rocky” movie as it is an homage. Director Ryan Coogler has used his considerable talents to make it its own thing, though dosing it with enough nostalgia to ensure older fans aren’t left behind.

As with most “Rocky” movies, Creed is essentially a reworking of the first Rocky. This time, the focus is on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late Apollo Creed, who died way back in 1985’s Rocky IV. Adonis has his father’s fighting spirit that draws him to the ring, but lacks the discipline it takes to convince anyone to train him.

So Adonis seeks out his dad’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to help him out.

From Rocky’s perspective, this is essentially the same premise as the much-maligned Rocky V, in which the newly retired Rocky becomes the manager of an up-and-comer with championship dreams. But Rocky V was at the tail end of a franchise that had morphed to a large degree into a soap opera, and the focus was still on Rocky and his family.

Rocky Balboa in 2006 did a lot to cleanse the bad aftertaste fans had after the fifth movie, both by allowing Rocky to deal with aging and loss, but also successfully returning to the formula established in the first film: A controversial champion needs a publicity stunt to generate interest in his next match, and gives a chance to a likeable and marketable underdog.

And that’s the story Creed applies, too, with Adonis in the Rocky position and Rocky, now mostly alone in his twilight years, serving the role of the punch-drunk veteran trainer Mickey was in the original. Creed faces adversity, falls in love, and gets his chance to shine. And Coogler isn’t so hung up on nostalgia as to let reflections of the previous films overwhelm how he develops these new characters (though there are a few meaty callbacks among the nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray).

The existence of Creed stemmed from an idea by Coogler to make a film to honor his father, who was a big fan of the “Rocky” films.

That’s probably why, about halfway through the film, Coogler drops any pretense of what he intends the film to be and allows it to be Rocky’s movie for about 20 minutes or so, generating a few scenes that could easily serve as Stallone’s Oscar clips.

These are emotionally packed scenes that carry huge resonance with longtime fans of the franchise, but also strengthen the character dynamics needed to push the final act.

Coogler also infuses the film with a sense of style that echoes but doesn’t emulate the other films. For example, he films one major fight scene in a single take on a steady-cam that sweeps around the action in the ring, a sharp contrast to the montages the earlier films relied upon to convey a sense of to warriors standing their ground and walloping each other.

“Rocky” fans should also enjoy the 15-minute behind the scenes featurette, which includes a healthy dose of clips from the earlier films and reflections from the likes of Miesha Tate and Michael Buffer on how the franchise influenced them.

The Blu-ray also includes a six-minute featurette about how Jordan trained for the role.

For his part, Coogler has managed to parlay his success from this film into the director's chair for Marvel's upcoming Black Panther movie. What that means for a potential Creed 2 remains to be seen.

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