‘Creed’ Adds to a ‘Rocky’ History

After four decades and six movies, Sylvester Stallone takes a chance on a new underdog.

In 2006's "Rocky Balboa," the old boxer stands forlornly amid the wreckage of a former Philadelphia ice skating rink, recalling his first awkward date there with his late wife, Adrian, three decades and five movies earlier.

Rocky's brusque brother-in-law, Paulie, breaks his bittersweet reverie: "You're living backwards, Rocco! Change the channel from yesterday – yesterday wasn't so great."

In the annals of "Rocky" movies, "yesterday" ranged from beyond great (the classic first installment in 1976) to miserable (1990's "Rocky V"), with a more gradual quality drop from film to film, in-between.

Now Sylvester Stallone's perennial underdog gets to keep a booted foot in the past as he lurches into the present with "Creed" – the first "Rocky" movie where Rocky isn't the star. The film offers an opportunity to extend the legacy of the series, nearly 40 years after Rocky Balboa became a movie icon.

"Creed" is the story of Adonis Johnson, the out-of-wedlock son of Rocky's late rival-turned-friend, boxing champ Apollo Creed. Rocky trains the young fighter, who was born after his father's death.

Credit Stallone with being secure enough in his stardom not only to take a supporting role, but cede creative control to a formidable new team that includes actor Michael B. Jordan and writer-director Ryan Coogler, who previously worked together on the powerful "Fruitvale Station."

Some might cringe at the thought of another "Rocky" movie, while purists might balk at sidelining the battered brawler from the main event. But the best moments of the series never hinged on the title character as much as on the strong supporting characters Stallone created to surround him, from Paulie to Adrian to grizzled trainer Mickey, whose role Rocky tackles in the new film.

Apollo Creed stands tall among Stallone's greatest characters. As embodied by Carl Weathers, Creed packed brains and a flair for showmanship, along with a fearsome punch. Like the mightiest of the "Rocky" cast, before the cartoonish Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago entered the picture, Apollo Creed emerged as a fully drawn human, far more than a gladiator in red, white and blue boxing trunks.

Stallone could have proudly tossed in the towel after "Rocky Balboa," which offered a fitting requiem for a film series characterized by sentiment and excesses. "Rocky Balboa" gave us both in a stirring, but unbelievable fight sequence, even by "Rocky" standards.

But like Rocky, Stallone never quits. Check out a preview of "Creed," as the film prepares to flip the channel on a "Rocky" history.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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