Creed is, for all intents and purposes, a chance to cash in on the Rocky franchise without literally killing Sylvester Stallone. I was reluctant to see it for a number of reasons. The Rocky franchise has been hit-and-miss for decades. The first two films are some of my favorite films of all time: two sides of a golden coin. The third is aggravating at best. Rocky IV is excellent if only for its propagandist take on history. The fifth… never speak of the fifth. Rocky Balboa was a good attempt at bringing a franchise back from the dead, and it wasn’t bad either (it’s one of my favorites) – it just didn’t ring necessary to me. Generally speaking, my family gets together to watch the Rocky films once a year (on a whim, not as a scheduled event), and I didn’t want this film to stain the series any further. I didn’t want a Rocky VII, essentially. But that’s alright, because that’s not the film we got. (Some spoilers throughout).
Sure, this was the next phase in Rocky’s life, but it was also the passing of the torch. Actor Michael B. Jordan, who played Adonis – the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed – takes center stage during this go around. His story, like Rocky’s in the original film, is a story about getting a huge chance to box the champ where there shouldn’t normally have been one.
But Adonis doesn’t share Rocky’s background. He was raised in LA, instead of Philly. He grew up in a wealthy home he was adopted into in childhood, thanks to the kindness of Creed’s widowed wife, while Rocky lived in poverty most of his life. And the other glaring difference is that Rocky never grew up in the shadow of his father. Although Apollo died before Adonis was ever born, his status as the ex-heavyweight champion of the world for some years weighed heavily upon Adonis, although he failed to admit it until it was being pointed out to him. This theme of making your own path, and not piggybacking off of the success of his father, is touched heavily upon as the story unfolds.
Before the plot gets too heavy, he goes by Johnson (his mother’s name), but calls are made by some shady characters and they find out the truth of his past, exposing his Creed lineage. Which is then exploited by the representative of Ricky Conlan (the current heavyweight champion of the world) who offers Adonis the chance of a lifetime in a title matchup.
One of the greatest joys you’ll find in watching any Rocky film is the overwhelmingly large heart he has. He is one of the most heartwarming characters in cinema history because of it. He’s not an intelligent person. He doesn’t have a lot of money to his name. And life has kicked him around more times than the guy can count. But his goodness is enough to win over anyone. If you like the films or not, there’s little arguing the fact that he’s a wonderfully well-developed and lovable character.
And this latest snippet of his life is one of the best yet. But that isn’t without its share of heartache. His wife is long passed. His son moved away to get out of his shadow. His brother-in-law Paulie is also deceased. Rocky is now a character with nothing to live for. He’s in the 15th round and his opponent is time itself. Seeing a hero I’ve grown up with reach this state in his life is incredibly difficult, especially knowing how he got where he is far better than any of the other characters in this film.
And as much as this film highlights age as a prominent theme, one can also make the comparison that the film has come full-circle with Rocky I. Adonis is now playing the role of young Rocky Balboa, looking for a trainer. Meanwhile Rocky is now playing the role of the wise old boxer-turned trainer, a role that Mickey played in the original films. We should never be privy to our heroes growing old… but in this case it really makes for a brilliant film. If you’ve ever gotten emotional when watching a Rocky film before, make no mistake: this film will make you cry (or, at the very least, tear up).
But again. This is Creed’s film. He is the main character. And the direction does have its’ share of Rocky homages, but it does diverge plenty. It’s a very modern take on the boxing genre. But more than boxing, it’s a film about people and the hardships people face.
The music deserves its own mention. Taking a more hip-hop and rap oriented turn is good. It resonates better with the character, and although the film isn’t an edgy one, it all feels extremely appropriate. If you’re looking for classic compositions that you remember from previous films you may find this lacking, unless you’re VERY familiar with past compositions, because they are subtly incorporated into some of the songs used on the soundtrack. Very cleverly, I might add. And yeah. You will hear the Rocky theme song at least once. (Sorry, no Eye of the Tiger.)
I loved this film to death. Do I want them to move forward with a second Creed film? They definitely left it open for that possibility. But no. I really hope they don’t. Because I’m afraid of completely getting my heart broken. There’s only one last chapter of Rocky’s life to tell at this point and that’s a fight I’m not lining up to see.
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