Via a flashback to the late '90s, we meet Adonis as Donnie Johnson, a foster teen prone to violent outbursts. He's lost both his biological parents (father Apollo, former heavyweight champ, died in the ring before Donnie was born). Swallowing a lot of resentment over her late husband's extramarital affair, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) takes the young Donnie in, providing much-needed stability in his life. In present day L.A., Donnie works an unspecified white collar job but also fights as a self-trained amateur in Mexico. He decides to ditch the day job and venture out to Philly in search of his dad's old rival-turned-friend, Rocky Balboa (Stallone).
There's a clunkiness to the first act that might leave Rocky fans a bit wary. Coogler has to wade through a bunch of exposition to establish Donnie's back story and, along with co-screenwriter Aaron Covington, it doesn't always feel natural. Rashad, in particular, is saddled with dialogue that reduces her to a plot device rather than a full-blooded character. But once Creed becomes something of a buddy picture, with an initially skeptical Rocky agreeing to train Donnie, the movie finds its stride.
That's not to say it doesn't still hit a few narrative dead-ends. Donnie's musician girlfriend Bianca (nicely played by Tessa Thompson) never feels quite essential. Her progressive hearing loss (which will eventually rob her of her music career) feels like a half-baked, ill-fitting metaphor, but doesn't make Donnie's path any more poignant. When Rocky falls seriously ill, the father-son/trainer-fighter relationship between Donnie and Rocky begins to resonate on a deeper level. But the offhanded way in which Rocky's world is updated (Paulie has died, Rocky Jr. moved to Vancouver, Rocky Balboa's Marie and her son Steps are never mentioned) might leave longtime franchise fans cold.
But of course, this isn't exactly Rocky VII, it's Donnie's story. The fight scenes are rousing and, again, Jordan and Stallone provide plenty of deeply-felt heart and soul. But Coogler never hits on anything truly iconic. Even its most memorable moments play off our memories of the original six films. By the time its all over (at 133 minutes, its easily the longest of all Rocky films), Creed remains more of a footnote than a distinctive film in its own right. But for fans of the Italian Stallion, there's real gratification in seeing an additional chapter in the iconic character's life.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray edition of Creed offers a flawless high definition presentation of Maryse Alberti's digital cinematography. The audio is presented as a lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that jumps to life during the boisterous fight sequences. Composer Ludwig Göransson's score (augmented by a few classic cues from Bill Conti's original Rocky score) is nice and upfront during all the most pulse-pounding moments.
The Creed Blu-ray Combo Pack (which includes a standard DVD and Digital HD copy) is light on extras. Most interesting is the selection of deleted scenes, but there's also a pair of featurettes. "Know the Past, Own the Future" is a standard promotionally-oriented 'making of' (15 minutes), while the shorter "Becoming Adonis" focuses on Michael B. Jordan's training regimen.
Sylvester Stallone book-ended his '76 Best Actor Oscar nomination for the original Rocky with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Creed. That makes him only the sixth actor in Academy Awards history to be nominated twice for portraying the same character. Though he missed Oscar gold, he did take the Golden Globe and a slew of critics' circle awards. If this is the last we ever see of Rocky Balboa, it's a heck of a way to end a 40-year saga.