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Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa. Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring. (From Warner Bros.’ official synopsis)

 Creed
I’ve admitted before that I’m not really a fan of the Rocky series, but you don’t need to be a Rocky-phile to find a late-in-the-game return to the universe intriguing – especially when it comes from an ‘outsider’ point-of-view.

I’ve been spending a lot of time crowing about the repeated formulas of 2015’s most popular movies. It’s difficult to get around the fact that many of the year’s biggest box office draws were driven by the reintroduction of familiar recipes. However, whereas adherence to story blueprints hobbled movies like Jurassic World and The Force Awakens, the Rocky series had already been playing variations on a strict formula for six movies. Creed uses these structural limitations to its advantage with major character adjustments. Adonis Creed is a completely different character than Rocky and Rocky is a completely different character than Mickey (or any of Rocky’s other training staff). By placing them in the familiar positions of the formula, director/co-writer (with Aaron Covington) Ryan Coogler gives the audience new perspectives on both the underdog boxer and obsolete trainer roles. Their long-odds story is fraught with familiar perils, but the modified characters carry different baggage, make different mistakes, and, ultimate, enforce the Rocky message for the modern era. That said, the routine is still a problem for those of us that don’t worship at the alter of these movies, because the plot really is that close to the original film. I found myself a bit bogged down by the plot-point-to-plot-point malaise of the middle act.

 Creed
Applying the Rocky formula to the modern era includes acknowledging the differences between the working classes of 1976 Philadelphia and to the more relevant working class 2015 Philadelphia (and L.A. during the beginning of the movie). The racial politics of the Rocky series have also been messy, though never intentionally unprogressive. Initially, Rocky Balboa represents the Great White Hope taking on the shock and awe of a dominant black man, Apollo Creed. Then, in the third movie, the White Hope and his black rival become inseparable friends and Creed’s black friends help train Rocky to take on a more brutal black fighter. I understand that one cannot simply apply contemporary cultural sensitivity to movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but there was room for a modern approach (in fairness, the sixth film, Rocky Balboa, did quite a bit to rectify the over-simplicity of race relations in those first five films by giving the younger black opponent a sympathetic personality). Like the original entries in the series, Creed rarely, if ever, directly references any kind of racial disparity, yet there’s no escaping the fact that, for long periods, Sylvester Stallone is the only white dude on screen. It’s an elegant approach – one that serves mainstream audiences that may have been disturbed by a more aggressive touch (not that a Fruitvale Station approach couldn’t have fit this situation). Beyond any idea of ‘reparations’ for the original movies – something I’m not sure anyone really wanted – the outsider in me finds the change in cultural landscape pretty incredible.

Stylistically, Coogler hasn’t strayed very far from Fruitvale Station, but the use of handheld cameras and gritty lighting fit the model. John G. Avildsen’s original Rocky established a cinéma vérité-lite style for the franchise and Coogler is simply bringing it back home, following the slicker imagery of the latter half of the series (excepting Rocky Balboa, which was a mix of raw and stylish). The camerawork and editing rarely draws attention to itself outside the ring and the stark contrast makes for particularly exhilarating fight scenes, especially the climax, which comes complete with tastefully applied slow motion, abstract lighting, and subjective sound effects that stick the audience in the heat of the moment. The compulsory training montages are more levelheaded than fans may expect from the franchise, sometimes to the point that they even poke fun at the tradition. This practical approach may not have inspired me to run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it illustrates the tactics of boxing better than any other movie in the franchise.

 Creed
I realize that the whole ‘ Rocky for the modern era’ statement makes it sound kind of silly (and Rocky being confused by ‘the cloud’ doesn’t help), but the effort is genuine and Rocky movies are nothing if not earnestly heartfelt – to the point that even the good ones are, well, kind of silly. That heart-on-the-sleeve tradition means that the actors spend a lot of their time exposing grandiose speeches at each other in a theatrical manner that can be cartoonish in the wrong hands (see: Rocky IV). The major cast does a fantastic job bringing everything down to earth without sacrificing the heightened tone required. It’ll be nice if Sly gets his Oscar, but the #oscarssowhite committee is right to be mad about Michael B. Jordan’s lack of nomination. Social justice aside, Bryan Cranston was so obnoxious in Trumbo...

Video


Creed was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti’s (who shot the similarly raw The Wrestler for Darren Aronofsky) hand-held, utilitarian style embraces the advantages and limitations of the format, including tight details, smooth gradations, and buzzing digital noise that comes and goes, depending on the location. The natural lighting schemes create substantial clarity differentiations – the dark interiors can verge on muddy, while the heavy overhead lights on the boxing sequences are so sharp that they look a bit like live HD television (though the difference isn’t quite as stark as it was in Rocky Balboa, where Stallone directly contrasted film and digital footage). None of the noise or sharpening effects appear to be compression issues. The colour timing is a bit drab, skewing brown and grey for most scenes (a palette pretty well established by the first couple Rocky’s), but there are some very vivid exceptions throughout the film, like the pop of uniforms/gloves during the climax and the neon glow of bars and restaurants.

 Creed

Audio


Creed is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and, like Rocky movies of the past, the sound design blends naturalistic dialogue, ambient street sounds, rousing music, and aggressive boxing sequences. Overall, the dialogue-driven scenes tend to be pretty quiet and the ambience tends to stick to the center channel. The matches, on the other hand, are zippy and build in volume and intensity as the stakes are elevated. The crowd sound is stead, the punch impacts are heavy, and off-screen elements (like Rocky’s ringside advice) roll through the stereo and surround channels as the camera circles the fighters. Composer Ludwig Göransson (aka: Ludovin), who also scored Fruitvale Station, accounts for and pays homage to Bill Conti’s famous Rocky motifs. The music is a bit more contemporary, but rarely overtly ‘hip.’ Creed’s theme is an incredibly rousing variation on the classic “Gonna Fly Now.” There are real-world pop tunes and in-movie music (Adonis’ love interest, played by Tessa Thompson, is included for additional flair).

Extras


  • Know The Past, Own The Future (14:50, HD) – This behind-the-scenes featurette compares the new movies to the old ones and covers the production process via interviews with the cast, crew, and some real-world fighters that weren’t otherwise involved with the movie. It’s fluffy, but covers quite a bit of material.
  • Becoming Adonis (5:50, HD) – Another EPK, this one concerned with Michael B. Jordan’s training routine.
  • Eleven deleted scenes (19:40, HD)


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Overall


I didn’t fall as deeply in love with Creed as my Rocky fan friends did, but it’s an awfully moving variation on those familiar themes. As an ‘outsider,’ it might go on to become my second favourite film in the franchise at this point. This Blu-ray release is light on extras, but does include almost twenty minutes of deleted scenes and strong, uncompressed A/V.

 Creed

Creed
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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