CREED Uppercuts Spin-Off Tropes, New on Blu

Creed arrived on home video formats on March 1.

Taking the son or other relative of an established character and developing a spin-off or sequel is one of the oldest and worst tricks in Hollywood’s bag. This nonsense rarely works because it’s usually the result of financial rather than creative interests. But occasionally, some phenomenal ones slip through: A Better Tomorrow II. Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Fuller House. Well, you can definitely count Creed among that short list.

The best thing about Creed is that it’s simultaneously a great new story while also being 100% a Rocky film. This is the next chapter of the Rocky saga, but also shifts focus to introduce us to the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s former rival turned best friend. The burying of the hatchet was one of the franchise’s most endearing developments, and the sense of surrogate family that resulted continues in this cleverly scripted follow-up. Young Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), Apollo’s son by an extramarital affair, takes center stage with Rocky filling in with a huge supporting presence. It’s practically an in-continuity remake of the original Rocky, taking many cues from that film and making them new again with Rock settling into the role of Mickey, his own trainer and mentor.

Adonis has the same kind of hunger that drove Rocky — in his case, the result of fear of living in his father’s shadow combined with the shame of being an illegitimate son. After both Apollo and his birth mother died, Apollo’s wife rather heroically found him and raised him as her own son, despite the pain that it must certainly have caused her.

Adonis still goes by his original name of Johnson. His given reasons: not only to prove that he doesn’t need to ride his father’s coattails to succeed, but also because it lowers his profile and helps deter scrutiny. But it goes one level deeper: he’s terrified of failing living up to his father’s legend. He needs a trainer, and goes to Rocky, whom he has never met, to get it.

By having a compelling protagonist, story, and framework that honor the franchise, Creed easily dodges the pitfalls of the “son of” trope of sequelization. And lest we forget, this is Rocky’s story, too. With Adrian and now Paulie passed on, and his son having moved far away, he’s feeling more old, lonely, and tired with each passing day. Even though he’s always been a fighter, he’s reached a place where there’s not much left to fight for.

Underneath the boxing framework is the real impact of the story, giving Rocky the sense of purpose that he’s lost, and Adonis the father figure he never had. It’s this key relationship that drives the film and makes it a real-deal Rocky movie and not just a spin-off.

Director Ryan Coogler, who pitched Sly the concept in the first place, brings total concentration and artistry to the proceedings. A mid-film fight plays out in its entirety, uninterrupted for 4 and a half minutes with no cuts. Philadelphia feels like the living, breathing jawn that it is. Parallels and callbacks to the original film abound, but are invigorated with new style and perspective — key among these is Adonis’ romance with his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a passionate and independent singer who couldn’t be more different from Rocky’s shy, mousey Adrian. The title “Creed” has multiple meanings and its use in the film is important — especially when Adonis receives a special package that helps remind him who he is. Even the audience’s (and my own) hesitation that Apollo’s extramarital affair would tarnish his legend is directly and effectively addressed.

Moving on to some negatives, I was bummed to find that Rocky has grown distant from his son — I can understand why this might have been considered a way to emphasize the relationship between Rocky and Adonis, but it’s so unnecessary and undoes a lot of what Rocky Balboa beautifully accomplished in repairing the strained father-son relationship. I also wish Tony Burton could have returned as Duke Evers, even in a cameo. He’s been such an important part of the fabric of the series for so long and I missed him, and we’ll never have a chance to see him in a Rocky movie again.

Having stated those criticisms, Rocky is my absolute favorite franchise and Creed is a wonderful film that proudly stands in that tradition, adding depth to the epic, now multi-generational saga. As it stands, this is hands-down my favorite movie of 2015 and highly recommended.

The Package

Creed arrived on Blu-ray on March 1. In addition to the standard edition, an exclusive Steelbook was also released through Target. I’m reviewing and sharing images of that version because it’s the one I bought and easily the better looking package, but the disc’s content is the same on both releases.

The discs features are a bit lightweight, which for a film of this caliber hints anticipation of a meatier release down the line. There is no audio commentary, which seems a real missed opportunity to hear Coogler and Stallone discussing their craft together. Nor are the film’s promo materials (trailers, teasers) included.

What’s here, though, is good stuff.

Special Features and Extras

Know The Past, Own The Future (14:49)
 This concept featurette explores the genesis and themes of Creed and creating a new chapter in the Rocky series. Features thoughts from Stallone, Coogler, Jordan, Rocky Balboa and Creed producer David Winkler, and others.

Becoming Adonis (5:46)
 Highlights on Michael B. Jordan’s strict dieting and physical training regimen necessary to portray a world class athlete.

Deleted Scenes (19:36)
 A surprisingly strong showing. Rather than a slew of stuff that didn’t work, a lot of these scenes are really great and feel like they would be perfectly at home in an extended cut that gives a little more breathing room.

A/V Out.

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