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‘Creed’ Follows The ‘Rocky’ Road

If you’re going to make a boxing movie, why not use the template of one that scored a knockout? That was Ryan Coogler’s concept in pitching a second-generation Rocky movie to Sylvester Stallone, and it works…with Coogler’s Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky Balboa’s onetime opponent, Apollo Creed. A troubled kid who’s always fighting, he is taken in by a kindly woman who turns out to be Apollo’s wife (Phylicia Rashad). She raises him well, but when he reaches adulthood he decides that it’s time to follow his destiny and enter the boxing ring, using a pseudonym.

Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are no shocks or giant surprises in this narrative—except for the way the director presents his hero’s first major bout, as one long, unbroken shot. No one has ever done this before, perhaps because CGI didn’t exist when Robert Rossen filmed Body and Soul and Martin Scorsese made Raging Bull. It’s a hell of sequence.

Michaek B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Jordan shows tremendous commitment to his character—enduring physical demands that not every actor would take on—and works well with his fatherly costar, as well as his striking love interest, played by Tessa Thompson, who scored such a success in Dear White People last year.

As for Stallone, he is clearly in his element and makes the most of every scene, playing the character that made him a household name almost forty years ago and earned him a pair of Oscar nominations, as actor and writer. He doesn’t dodge the concept of aging and, not so incidentally, looks terrific.

Unlike the last Rocky sequels, which seemed to be running out of steam (and ideas) this one seems fresh, despite its formulaic nature, and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Will you hear strains of Bill Conti’s Rocky theme? Will the former champ climb the fabled City Hall steps in Philadelphia? Have no doubt. This movie gives audiences, young and old, exactly what they expect

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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