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Worth A Look63.64%
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Pretty Crappy: 18.18%
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1 review, 5 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Insert Boxing-Related Quip Here"
4 stars

When it was announced about a decade ago that Sylvester Stallone was going to reprise his star-making role of Rocky Balboa for the first time since the disastrous "Rocky V" sixteen years earlier, few observers saw it as anything other than a desperate attempt to revive a career that had been floundering in recent years. Besides, even though Stallone was far fitter than most people, regardless of age, could claim to be, wasn't he just a tad too old to credibly appear in the boxing ring? Therefore, it came as a shock to nearly everyone to discover that the ensuing film, "Rocky Balboa" (2006), was a genuinely entertaining movie--easily the best of the franchise since the 1976 original and the first sequel in 1979--and the first one in the series since those initial installments to really have an understanding as to why we liked that particular character in the first place--we liked his sweetness, his humor and his basic decency, not his musculature. To make things even better, it managed, against seemingly insurmountable odds, to cast away memories of the dire "Rocky V" and find just the right approach to bring the story full circle and end things with the dignity that it deserved and which had gotten lost in some of the more cartoony later films.

Therefore, it came as a surprise when it was announced a year or so ago that, despite all appearances to the contrary, Rocky Balboa would return yet again but in decidedly odd circumstances--instead of a full-blown seventh "Rocky" film, there would be a spin-off centered on the heretofore-unknown son of his greatest opponent, the late Apollo Creed, in which Rocky would appear in a supporting part. Not only that, while Stallone would, of course, reprise the role--recasting that particular part is literally unthinkable--he would only be participating as an actor, a startling move considering that he wrote the screenplays for all the previous films and directed a number of them to boot. Instead, the reins would be passed on to Ryan Cogler, the up-and-coming filmmaker who caused a stir with his 2013 debut, "Fruitvale Station." Once again, what appeared at first blush to be a gargantuan mistake has turned out to be a fairly happy surprise because while "Creed" may not quite hit all the dramatic heights of "Rocky Balboa," it is an undeniably strong film that spins off in interesting new directions while still recognizing the elements that made the "Rocky" films so beloved in the first place and contains a performance by Stallone that more than deserves to be a serious contender in the fast-approaching scrum for supporting actor honors.

"But wait," you may be asking at this point, "Apollo Creed had a what now?" In the opening scene, set in 1998, young Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) is getting busted for once again fighting in the L.A. juvenile facility where he resides when he is visited by a strange woman (Phylicia Rashad) who informs him that he is the illegitimate son of her late husband--the one and only Apollo Creed--and that he was born after Creed died in the ring. When the story picks up years later, Adonis (now played by Michael B. Jordan) is still living with his adoptive mother and trying to live a normal 9-to-5 existence as an office drone while sneaking off to Tijuana on weekends for the occasional surreptitious bout. Eventually, he decides to chuck the straight life in order to dedicate himself entirely to fighting--a move that adoptive Mom does not approve off at all--and heads off to Philadelphia in the hopes of convincing his father's most notable opponent--do I have to say his name?--to train him in the style of his old man.

Although Rocky isn't doing much of anything beyond running his restaurant and visiting the graves of his beloved Adrian and the slightly-less-beloved Paulie (don't worry, the turtles appear to be fine), he is not particularly eager to return to the boxing world, even just as a trainer. Eventually, Rocky agrees to take the kid on and the two begin training, taking pains to keep Adonis' parentage a secret so as not to attract a lot of undue attention. However, after an early triumph in the ring, the jig is up and the two are offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The world's light-heavyweight champion, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew)--a guy who acts as though his training films were done by Guy RItchie--is about to serve a prison sentence that will likely mean the end of his professional career and wants to end things with one last giant payday and is convinced that fighting the son of Apollo Creed will provide just that. Again, Rocky is not so sure but eventually agrees to the fight but just as the two are about to begin training in earnest, a bit of news arrives that threatens to turn things between them upside down and instigate a fight more important than any mere battle in the ring.

To be honest, the early scenes of "Creed" are not that promising--the machinations required to explain Adonis' parentage and depict his struggle between pursuing his dream of fighting and placating his adoptive mother by working at a straight day job are a bit clunky and don't even begin to try to make sense of the timeline--but once the scene shifts to Philadelphia, the pieces finally begin to fall into place. Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Covington in addition to directing, does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of Rocky's old neighborhood with almost documentary-like precision--even the tiniest roles, such as a cheesesteak vendor, have an authenticity to them that impresses without showing off. He also finds a number of ways of paying quiet homage to the legacy of the films that preceded it while still finding his own voice and approach. Although the film does at times fall into the standard boxing movie trap of having the fighters throw maybe three times the punches one might see in an ordinary fight, the fights are staged in a surprisingly inventive manner at times with Adonis' first major fight, shot in what appears to be one long and unbroken take, destined to appear on future lists of the best film fights. At the same time, there are a number of quieter, character-driven moments that are equally impressive, such as the bit where Adonis braids the hair of his new girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an ambitious singer who is suffering from progressive hearing loss, and the scene where Rocky visits the graves of Adrian and Paulie armed with a folding chair and a newspaper.

Since starring in "Fruitvale Station," Michael B. Jordan has been poised to become the next big young male movie star and while that trip may have been temporarily derailed by the all-out disaster of the recent "Fantastic Four" reboot, "Creed" should be the one that finally puts him over the top. He is simply magnetic throughout--fiercely convincing in the boxing sequences and equally believable out of the ring in his depiction of a young man struggling to come to terms with his legacy and his desire to make a name for himself that doesn't involve trading on his famous parentage. And while it is odd at first to watch a film from the "Rocky" franchise without Rocky Balboa at its center, the performance by Sylvester Stallone more than makes up for it. Simply put, he is great throughout in the way that he finds new areas to explore with the character that he has been playing off-and-on for nearly 40 years that makes his performance seem fresh and vital throughout. Stallone has always been an underrated actor whose chief talents--an offbeat sense of humor and an ability to evoke a quiet and unforced sense of compassion and sweetness--have not always been serviced by the testosterone-heavy vehicles that have been his bread and butter over the years. Perhaps more so than any "Rocky" film since the original, he gets the chance to show those traits here and the result is one of the very best performances of his entire career. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if his name is included in the final list of Supporting Actor nominees for the Oscars in a couple of months, I will be happy.

"Creed" is not without its problems--there is a subplot about a medical issue involving Rocky that seems like a vestige from an earlier draft of the screenplay that was never fully weeded out and Creed's final opponent is so forgettable that you might find yourself pining for the likes of Tommy Morrison, However, considering the myriad number of ways in which this film could have gone horribly wrong, I am more than willing to give those flaws a pass. Whether you look at the film as the graceful ending of an old era or the exciting beginning of a new one, "Creed" is superior popular entertainment that shows that a mass audience can be electrified by a film that does not rely on elaborate set-pieces or complicated special effects. Either way, if you can make it through the finale of the film with cheering, even internally, then there is something clearly wrong with you.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28551&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/28/15 15:25:18
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User Comments

2/15/16 Hoop Lane Fairly boring, same old same old 2 stars
12/29/15 Langano Not bad. 3 stars
12/04/15 mr.mike Good but not great. Stallone shines. 3 stars
12/02/15 Bob Dog Slooooow and overly cheesy - - a big disappointment! 2 stars
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