Not to be confused with one of America's worst bands or The Office's most criminally underused character, Ryan Coogler's Creed (2015) is yet another continuation of the 40 year-old Rocky franchise. Aside from 007, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I can't think of many properties with more big-screen staying power: despite the obvious repetition of formulas (or desperate attempts to shake things up for a new generation), fans still flock to familiar franchises year after year, often with their kids in tow. It's been almost a full decade since the surprisingly effective Rocky Balboa hit theaters---the second longest wait between installments, in fact--- but since Creed boasts a new star, writer, and director in addition to a supporting role by Stallone himself, it's as much a spin-off as a spiritual sequel.
Whether Coogler's film works will probably depend on your tolerance for recycling. On paper, Creed borrows quite a lot from earlier installments, especially the original: a determined young boxer earns a shot at glory though name value, with a rugged veteran in his corner and a new girlfriend cheering from the crowd. Of course, a few elements are shifted this time around: for starters, the up-and-comer is Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of boxing legend Apollo Creed by way of an affair before Apollo's untimely death in the ring. A troubled young man, Johnson's been fighting his whole life and pursues boxing against the wishes of Apollo's widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad); after moving to Philadelphia with a desire to be trained by his dad's best friend Rocky Balboa (Stallone, natch), he develops a relationship with neighbor and local musician Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Johnson also fights his heritage as Creed's son; he even attempts to hide it as long as possible, until word gets out and soon-to-be-retired British boxer "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) proposes a high-profile match if Johnson fights as "Adonis Creed".
Aside from the strong "father-son" chemistry between Rocky and Adonis, what Creed does best is mirror the original's "meta" storytelling: Rocky was a surprise million-to-one success story in 1976, just as its hero was a nobody who succeeded against unlikely odds. Creed takes the same approach by passing the torch to a new franchise star whose character is fighting to escape the considerable shadow of what's come before. When viewed from this perspective, it's a natural extension of the Rocky saga that's been treated with an obvious respect from top to bottom.
I enjoyed Creed during my first run-through, and even enjoyed it a little more the second time. It's a likable underdog story with that familiar Rocky mixture of action, romance, training montages, motivation, humor, and heart, but one whose very best moments hinge almost completely on Stallone's involvement as a supporting character and consultant. This shouldn't be surprising, of course: since most fans logically consider Creed to be Rocky VII---at least for now---I'd imagine Coogler had no choice but to carve a new statue using some of that leftover rock (no pun intended). Only time will tell if the Creed saga has enough strength to carry its own load once (if?) Stallone eventually bows out...but for now, it's a heartfelt effort that nonetheless connects a few too many of the same dots. The end result is a little less resonant and substantial than its slightly bloated 133-minute running time implies.
But its strongest moments, no matter who's responsible for them, can't be ignored. As mentioned earlier, the chemistry between Rocky and Adonis is terrific, leading to plenty of genuinely moving and funny moments that don't all hinge on swipes at their generational gap. The addition of Bianca as an independent, strong-willed artist is a step in the right direction; she's nowhere near as reserved as Talia Shire's Adrian, which ties in nicely with Adonis' more brash and confident swagger (even if I kept waiting for John Cusack and Jack Black to show up, since she's a dead ringer for Lisa Bonet's character in High Fidelity). The in-ring fights are also handled extremely well, each done in a different visual style that hints at the development of Adonis during his amateur and brief professional career.
Creed isn't a total (sigh) "knockout", taking a step or two forward while spinning its wheels more than a few times...but it's still a pleasing and watchable effort that, given the franchise's status before its recent existence, may very well be the best possible continuation of a story that probably should've ended a long time ago. As a spiritual mix of what I'd consider to be the series' best installments (Rocky and Rocky Balboa), it's at least picked good source material to swipe liberally from. As such, I can't imagine very many die-hard fans hating this film outright; at the very worst, it might leave them a little indifferent but the film's fundamental strengths should lead to multiple viewings. Warner Bros.' Blu-ray package serves up a first-rate A/V presentation and handful of brief but enjoyable bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.39 aspect ratio, Creed looks excellent on Blu-ray. This is a clean and crisp 1080p transfer from start to finish with strong image detail, obvious textures, deep black levels and, most importantly, no glaring digital imperfections (even accounting for the fogginess associated with glaring ring lights). The slightly diffused but mostly natural color palette is also appreciated---since most modern films, digitally-shot or otherwise, favor the dreaded "teal and orange" look---and it's represented well here. Overall, there's simply not much of anything to complain about: Creed is a good-looking production and this Blu-ray seems to perfectly capture its theatrical presentation.
DISCLAIMER: This images featured in this review are promotional in nature and do not represent the Blu-ray's 1080p source image.
As good as the video quality is, the default DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (also available in lossy French, Spanish, and Portuguese dubs) is even better. Though most of the dialogue-driven scenes are obviously anchored squarely up front, the sporadic music cues and boxing matches open up the sound stage quite nicely. The second fight is particularly effective (the one with the long, unbroken rotating shot), peppered by swirling crowd reactions and terrific channel separation that play tricks on unsuspecting new viewers. Low frequency and overall dynamics are also strong, while the aforementioned dialogue is very clear from start to finish. Overall, this is a very satisfying presentation that boosts the film's dramatic effectiveness, even during some of its quieter moments. Optional English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles have been included during the film and all applicable bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Though predictably low on style points (and featuring what might very well be the worst background music
in recent memory), Warner Bros.' standard interface is clean, easy to navigate, and loads quickly. Sub-menus have been included for bonus features, audio/subtitle setup, and chapter selection. This two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD) is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with poster-themed artwork, a matching slipcover, and a Digital Copy
Not much (and the lack of an audio commentary is disappointing), but what's here is easily worth at least a once-over. A pair of Featurettes
is up first: "Know the Past, Own the Future" (15 minutes) offers a retrospective look at the Rocky
franchise, from its impact on young director Ryan Coogler to the ways in which Creed
attempts to become its own film while retaining the series' particular charms. "Becoming Adonis" (6 minutes) focuses on Michael B. Jordan's year-long transformation, from his training regimen and strict diet to the work ethic needed to accomplish both. In total, we hear from Coogler, Stallone, Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Michael Buffer, members of the production team, and even a few real-life fighters (including some who portraying supporting characters in the film itself).
Elsewhere, we also get a nice selection of Deleted Scenes (11 clips, 20 minutes total), likewise presented in 1080p with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. There are a handful of quieter dramatic moments here; many features Stallone in good form, along with Tessa Thompson whose character is grossly underused during the film's second half. It's easy to see why these were cut for time within the context of the final cut, but they stand up well on their own.
Though Creed's poignant effectiveness as a "passing of the torch" may grow over time, it can't help but struggle a bit in the here and now. Perhaps I've all just seen too many variants of the Rocky formula to fully embrace another, but one thing's for sure: the film still has plenty of great moments and the chemistry between Stallone and Michael B. Jordan paves the way for most of them. Overall, though, it's definitely a little bloated at 132 minutes while offering neither the full-bodied character study of the first film or the condensed framework of Rocky Balboa. But since Stallone doesn't serve as writer, director, or main character this time around, perhaps these comparisons to earlier films are no longer necessary. Either way, Warner Bros.' Blu-ray of Creed offers a decent amount of support, pairing an exceptional A/V presentation with a few short but enjoyable extras. Despite some reservations about the film itself, it's a solid overall package that newcomers and seasoned fans will likely revisit often. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.