Posted on November 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense sports violence (boxing), illness and disability
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 25, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 7, 2016 ASIN: B019EEK7ZA
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

Rocky had to find the eye of the tiger. When we first met him back in 1976, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) was an amiable, good-hearted lug who loved his pet turtles, Cuff and Link, and if he ever saw himself getting into the ring with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he could only imagine it would be as a sparring partner. His aspiration was not to get his nose broken and go the distance. Over the course of six films, he took on ever-more daunting opponents, so we could always think of him as the underdog. In the first film, he had the advantage of surprise. Creed assumed he could easily defeat the unknown fighter. Rocky did go the distance (and did get his nose broken), and lost in a split decision. In the second film, Creed knew what to expect and his pride was on the line. This time, it was Rocky who got soft after his fame and success. He had to get hungry and learn to be a fighter again. Rocky faced — and defeated — a champion at the top of his game.

Rocky went on to fight ever-more terrifying foes: Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who was not the decent, honorable guy that Creed was, and then the steroid Soviet man-machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In the last two films, Rocky struggled with the killer knock-out punch that we all face — old age. His trainer Mickey and his wife Adrian have died. He still wants to go the distance, but now it does not seem so distant any more.

And now here is another fighter looking for a title shot. We first meet young Adonis Johnson (called Donny) in juvie, where we learn that he just can’t stop fighting. Eye of the tiger is not his problem. It is taming the tiger he has to work on.

Apollo Creed’s widow Mary Anne (dignified but warm-hearted Phylicia Rashad) is willing to give him a home. Donny’s father was Apollo Creed. His mother is dead. Mary Anne has decided to raise him. And she has no intention of letting him become a fighter.

Donny (charismatic Michael B. Jordan) is doing well in his office job, but there is something in him that just needs to punch people. So he leaves Mary Anne working in an office and he seeks out Rocky as a trainer. Rocky does not want to train anyone (see Tommy Morrison in #5). He just wants to miss Adrian in the restaurant he named for her. But this would not be a Rocky movie if Rocky didn’t go back to the gym, and pretty soon that training montage starts up. Gosh darn if it doesn’t still work, especially when that Rocky theme starts filtering through.

Pretty soon there’s a pretty girl, of course, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson (“Dear White People” and if you haven’t seen it, please do so now). I loved this character for many reasons, primarily because she never took the “oh, don’t fight, you’ll get hurt” role (that is left to Rashad), and because she plays a character who embraces life so fully that she responds to a progressive hearing loss by devoting herself to her passion for creating music while she can. It is genuinely moving to see a disabled character in a film who is not defined by disability. Bianca is a strong, confident, passionate woman and Thompson plays the role beautifully in every sense of the word. Plus, she and Jordan have some sizzling chemistry.

This next chapter (apparently the beginning of a new series) goes the distance. Jordan, thankfully far from the catastrophically awful “Fantastic Four,” is back with writer/director Ryan Coogler. Their last film together, “Fruitvale Station,” was one of the best movies of 2013. As they did in that film, they have created a character who is complex, layered, trying to understand his past and not sure whether he can move on from it. Jordan can hold the screen with as much star power as any young actor in Hollywood today. He and Coogler are true to the Rocky tradition without being trapped by history. Yes, they go back to the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And yes, you will tear up when they do.

Parents should know that this film includes intense scenes of boxing with graphic injuries, strong language, sexual references and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Adonis want to use his father’s name? What changed his mind? What would you do if you had Bianca’s health challenges?

If you like this, try: the “Rocky” movies and “Southpaw”

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