Release Date(s)2015 (June 7, 2016)
Studio(s)New Line/MGM (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Who could have guessed that, nearly a decade after Rocky Balboa all but wrapped up the cinematic story of Sylvester Stallone’s iconic boxer, an up and coming filmmaker (of the generation that grew up on these films) would find a way to not only give the Rocky franchise a whole new life, but would create a film that stands on its own too, and provides Stallone with one of the best acting vehicles of his long career? Creed came as a complete surprise last year – so much so that I think many audiences simply didn’t bother to take a chance on it. For my part, I quite liked Rocky Balboa – I thought it provided a nice ending for the character. So, when I first heard of Creed, I was certainly skeptical. But I’ve liked star Michael B. Jordan since I first saw him on TV’s Friday Night Lights. That, combined with the strength of his previous work with director Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station, and my affinity for Stallone, meant that dubious or not, I wasn’t going to pass on seeing Creed in the theater. Boy, am I ever glad I didn’t. I haven’t been so pleasantly surprised – in fact, flat-out thrilled – by a film in years. Creed is a terrific piece of filmmaking.
It tells the story of young Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Jordan), who is the son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed – the product of an affair, born after Creed’s death at the hands of Russian pummeling machine Ivan Drago (as seen in Rocky IV). When she learns of the boy’s existence, Creed’s wife (played here by Phylicia Rashad) adopts Adonis and tries to give him every advantage in life, but the young man simply has too much of his father in him. All he wants to do is fight, to prove that he wasn’t a mistake – that he’s truly worthy of his father’s name. Knowing who he is, however, no one will agree to train him. So Adonis turns to the only person he can, the man who was his father’s biggest rival and greatest friend… Rocky Balboa.
Part of the genius of Creed is that it truly brings the character of Rocky full circle, recasting him in the Mickey role from the original film – a man who’s near the end of a life that’s given him brief moments of greatness, and otherwise done little but beaten him down, but who finds new purpose in training a younger fighter with promise. It takes Rocky to an even more personal place, however, by requiring him to fight an illness he knows all too well (a plot inspired by Coogler’s relationship with his own father). This not only pushes Stallone to depths he’s seldom reached as an actor (and make no mistake, this is Stallone’s best performance since 1997’s Cop Land and probably the original Rocky before that), but it also gives Rocky and Donnie reasons to bond together – they’re both working to fight the longest odds and to do that they have to believe in each other. A story like that can only work if the actors playing those roles are in sync, so I’m pleased to say that Jordan and Stallone are absolutely terrific together on screen. Their characters are so different on the surface, and yet they understand each other completely. In many ways, Rocky and Donnie are family… so much so that when, by their second or third meeting, Donnie is already calling Rocky his “Unck,” you just buy it. And then the film has you right where it wants you. Add to this a charming and eclectic romantic subplot, featuring Tessa Thompson as a musician who’s slowly losing her hearing (this actress too has great chemistry with both men), and the requisite “zero to hero” boxing story (which is perfectly directed by Coogler, with Stallone’s guidance), and you have a damn great film. No kidding, this movie had me in tears more than once. Like a good fighter, it’s full of heart. And while it’s rare that you can point to any film and say “This has the perfect ending”... this one sure one does.
Creed was shot in ARRI Raw format using ARRI Alexa XT digital cameras and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. That DI has been upconverted to 4K for this Ultra HD release (3840x2160), a new HDR color timing pass was completed, and the film is presented here in its original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The upconversion results in a little bit of an increase in noise in the film grain texture that’s applied to the image – the same effect is seen in Warner’s recent Mad Max: Fury Road 4K release. But in every other respect, the image here is an improvement upon the regular HD presentation. For one thing, there are deep blacks here that still retain a surprising amount of detail, as when Donnie climbs the darkened steps to take the ring in his first bought in Mexico at the start of the film. Colors are more nuanced too but also deeper, which adds impact to the film’s fight sequences – scenes that tend to pop with bold reds, blues, and yellows anyway. High Dynamic Range also improves these scenes as the actors maneuver under harsh stadium lights – that light glistens off muscles, ring ropes, and gloves. It positively glows from the windows and lights in the darkened training spaces and arenas, enhancing the film’s atmospherics. The added resolution also shows up in the improved texturing seen on the ancient brick walls of the Front Street Gym… and in all those old fight posters on the walls there. Simply put, this is a lovely image and I prefer it to the Blu-ray (which was fine on its own) in every way.
Audio is available in the same 7.1 English DTS-HD MA format that was found on the regular Blu-ray edition. It’s a surprisingly adventurous surround mix, especially showy during the fight sequences. Donnie’s fight with Coster was shot all in one take, and the audio mix during this scene shifts perspectives with the camera and actors – you can hear Rocky talking to Donnie from different positions around the listening space as it does. The mix is also lively during training sequences, and the film’s soundtrack (which includes a Ludwig Göransson score that makes light but effective use of Bill Conti’s iconic fanfare, as well as hip hop/R&B tracks by Future, Meek Mill, White Dave, Thompson and others) sounds terrific, in perfect balance with the dialogue, and featuring great dynamic range and bass reinforcement. This is not a film where you expect the audio presentation to shine, and yet it does. Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio (in US and UK versions), and 5.1 Dolby Digital in French (Quebecois), French, German, Italian, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, and Polish (Voice-Over). Optional subtitles are also available in English (for the deaf and hard of hearing), French, German (for the deaf), Italian (for the deaf), Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Standard Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on the 4K disc whatsoever (which is reflected by the grade above). However, the Blu-ray version is included in the packaging, which offers a pair of featurettes – Know the Past, Own the Future (14:49) and Becoming Adonis (5:46) – as well as 11 Deleted Scenes (19:36). The featurettes are decent, you just wish there were more of them. The deleted scenes are cut together as a single long video. There’s good character material there, but one can understand why most of it was trimmed from the film. There’s also the usual Digital Copy code included on a paper insert.
[Editor’s Note: Given that nearly all 4K releases are multi-disc sets, with the extras often included on separate BD discs, our extras grades for these 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will reflect the bonus content across all discs in the set.]
I love this film... even more so for the fact that I never expected to. Creed is my personal favorite film of 2015, right up there with Mad Max: Fury Road, Brooklyn, Ex Machina, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in terms of the sheer enjoyment I experienced while watching it. Coogler and Jordan have appropriated the standard Rocky boxing plot, with Stallone’s cautious blessing, and creatively reenergized it in ways I simply didn’t think possible. The result is a film that’s both the second best entry in the Rocky series (after the original) and maybe the start of its own series too. Equal parts engaging, moving, and thrilling, Creed is way better than you think… and certainly not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt