After the redemptive franchise triumph that was Rocky Balboa, the trailer for Creed filled me with apprehension. While nothing can remove the quality of a previous entry – Rocky is still a classic despite various levels of misstep afterward – there’s a sense that you want to preserve that happy feeling in amber and not have to work to suppress a disappointment…or explain it away.
It wasn’t this trepidation kept me from seeing Creed in its theatrical release, so much as an expanding family. Still, I thought Rocky Balboa had made the final statement of the character, and there wasn’t a need to say anything else with him.
I was wrong.
As I reflected on this film for this essay, I realized there are some amazing points to compare and constrast with another franchise dealing with aging heroes. This is Adonis’s story – not Rocky’s – but Rocky *is* there, the sage advisor. As I reflected on this film for this essay, I realized there are some amazing points to compare and constrast with another franchise dealing with aging heroes.
I have a longing for the Star Wars franchise to have paid closer attention to Creed as a model. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi deal with a Luke Skywalker, who’s at a similar point in his life. The world belongs to others now. He helped shape it, and he’s remembered fondly. He’s sought by a new student who’s lost, without real parentage, trying to find their way.
The difference between Rocky and Luke is that he hasn’t surrendered emotionally. Adonis Johnson encounters a Rocky who’s ready to fade away, but who remains genial and kind He’s accepted that he’s in the twilight of his life but there’s a maturity to his outlook that we recognize, and even respect. He’s not stepping aside so much as fading as all do in time.
Quite frankly, Creed is a shining example of how to soft-reboot a franchise.
Creed, true to the best of the previous efforts in the series, tackles a range of complex issues, chief among those the roles of legacy and fatherhood. You can see an echo, even, of what Stallone was trying to say in Rocky V: our legacies are more complicated than we think they’re going to be.
What makes Creed bracingly fresh is its honesty. There’s no effort to mythologize the struggle that these characters are enduring. This is Rocky brought back to the real world as it stands, a world inhabited by Adonis himself.
We remember Adonis’ father Apollo Creed as a larger-than-life champion, one of whose final acts on earth was dancing on a pyrotechnic display to James Brown’s Living in America while dressed as Uncle Sam. He was the joyous, comic embodiment of proud swagger.
Adonis is left in the ashes of that display, though. Apollo didn’t care for his son or his legacy as he should, and there are clear statements about the lasting effects of immaturity. Thankfully Rocky is there to remind us that Apollo was not *bad*, but flawed, and he’s the one person whose word we’ll take for it on faith.
I can honestly say I was not expecting what I got when I saw Creed.
As solid a writer as Stallone can be, the script by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington is like a fresh breeze into this franchise space. There’s not a wasted moment, and the editing is crisp. Ludwig Goransson’s score is a driving and expressive work, worth revisiting. An integral voice in the film, it manages to do exactly what’s at the core of the film itself: honor the series that got us here, and hand the reins over to a new generation.
A testament to Coogler’s skills as a director is that he’s able to get a truly great and subtle performance from Stallone, a worthy match to Michael B. Jordan’s richly expressed Adonis. I know that he’s since gone on to direct the terrifically successful Black Panther, but this will remain one of those important notes in his career as the clear signal of what a talent he possesses. Here’s one of the signposts they will point to as an indication of what an impact he was bound to have.
Will Creed 2 deliver a worthy follow-up punch? Like you, I’m anxious to discover if it can.
What is your favourite movie in the Rocky franchise? Let us know.