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Film Review by Don Gibble: "Creed"


Film Review by Don Gibble:

It's the holiday season and what better movie to see with the whole family than a movie featuring a character so many generations have fallen in love with, Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone doesn't get back in the ring in “Creed”, but he still comes away as a big winner in this likeable offshoot of the “Rocky” series. Essentially taking on the role of Burgess Meredith's old trainer Mickey character from the series' early days, the veteran actor delightfully registers as a paisano from the old neighborhood, a man of the streets who's lived his life, fought his battles and has no more scores to settle. From the points of view of director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, this marks some major mainstreaming after their 2013 breakthrough with “Fruitvale Station”; dramatically, it's the same old “Rocky” formula applied now to the unknown son of the late Apollo Creed.

Thinking he might be good enough to follow in his famous father's footstep[s, Adonis Johnson (Jordan) has no trouble tracking down Rocky at the Philadelphia Italiuan restaurant Adrian's, named after the boxer's late wife, and only slightly more difficulty convincing him to guide him in his quest to become a first-rate fighter. Despite initial resistance, it's a given that Rocky will cave and help the kid out, and Stallone is at his best as he charmingly walks the line between weary resignation at the encroachment of old age and the inextinguishable desire to get back in the game again.

The script by Coogler and his former USC grad school classmate Aaron Covington follows a notably formulaic line from here on: Rocky hones and shapes his new charge, who's never been trained in a professional manner, eventually taking him back to his old Front Street Gym; Rocky goes to the cemetery to sit and talk with Adrian, while Adonis meets neighbor Bianca, who just happens to be an extremely foxy singer who's doing some local performing at the moment, making possible some club scenes.

Melodrama demands that a high-stakes fight be arranged for Adonis far earlier in his career than would ever be the case in real life. Positioned exactly half-way into the film, his first East Coast bout sees the hopeful getting banged up a bit before getting the feel of things. More interesting is the way it's been shot – all in one take for the first round, with the steadicam moving around the ring in a manner as agile as the boxers themselves and always catching the key action.

Winning this match-up also lets the cat out of the bag, that this kid is the son of Apollo Creed. The news attracts the attention of arrogant British undefeated light-heavyweight champ Pretty Ricky Conlan, who, for reasons of his own, needs a quick fight and sees a big, and presumably easy, payday in taking on the inexperienced American with such a famous lineage. The Liverpool setting of the climactic bout, Anthony Bellew's attractive toughness as Conlan and Scottish actor Graham McTavish's rough authenticity as the latter's manager provide a welcome new flavor to the film, as wel las to the series as a whole.

Coogler makes the transition from the indie world to big-budget studio filmmaking with a result that's sturdy and smooth. Buffed into ring-ready shape, Jordan aquits himself well both in and out of the ring, even if the innermost aspects of Adonis' insecurities and issues aren't as extensively explored as they might have been. Phylicia Rashad as Apollo's widow mostly looks on supportively from afar.

Philly's Rocky steps also make a key appearance at the end. Original “Rocky” producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff continued their invovement on this one, although Chartoff died in June. The film is dedicated to him. This is a feel-good movie to be enjoyed by the whole family!