If you go into 2015’s Creed expecting anything other than a rehash of 1976’s Rocky you will be sorely disappointed. However, just because the main plot of Ryan Coogler’s boxing drama is the snake eating its own tail of the Rocky franchise doesn’t mean that the film isn’t fantastic when standing on its own two legs.
Creed opens with a flashback to a young Adonis “Donnie” Johnson’s time in a juvenile facility where he has a bad habit of getting into fights with the other kids. His mother has either abandoned him or is in jail herself and he never knew his father. So, when Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow, appears and knows certain details about Donnie’s life, young Donnie is skeptical. When Donnie asks what his father’s name was and the movie cuts to the main title, I didn’t care that I saw this transition coming from a mile away because it gave me chills. There’s something about the underlying theme of this movie, Adonis’ search for identity, that I found extremely engaging.
The good thing about the fact that this movie has been done before is that there’s no way to leave you in suspense about anything with regards to the boxing stuff. If you’ve seen the end of the first Rocky movie you’ve seen the end of Creed; the only thing missing is the shout-out to the girlfriend that is parodied to the point that it loses all meaning. Creed and Rocky are in many ways the same movie on the surface, but once you go deeper you see that both Coogler’s script, which he cowrote with Aaron Covington, and his direction use what the audience knows about the story of Rocky Balboa. He changes a few things extremely slightly and is able to make Adonis Johnson feel both fresh and lived-in the same time. Where Rocky was out to prove to himself that he could beat Apollo, Donnie is out to prove to the world that he doesn’t need the Creed name to make something of himself as a boxer. The fact that Donnie can’t escape fighting, even at the beginning of the film when he has a well-paying job and has just gotten promoted, shows that, in some way, Apollo is an inescapable force for Adonis. Throughout the film it’s made clear that Donnie cares more about his friends and family than fighting. I don’t know if the intention was to say in some way that fighting was the character’s destiny or a way to connect with the father he never knew.
The prevailing theme in this movie is finding one’s own identity. Michael B. Jordan’s character has to decide whether he is Donnie Johnson or Adonis Creed, a fact driven home late in the movie when his mother has given him a pair of stars and stripes boxing trunks that match Apollo Creed’s from Rocky II. The trunks have both of the character’s last names on them. On the other side of the coin, perennial loser hero Rocky Balboa struggles to find meaning in life after the death of Adrian’s brother, Paulie, leaving the Italian Stallion with no real friends still around. He finds real purpose in becoming Donnie’s trainer, and he sees as a way to repay Apollo for the work he did in Rocky III and the fact that he kind of let him get killed. Speaking of Apollo’s death, there’s a moment in the final fight of the movie that directly mirrors Apollo’s death fall from the franchises fourth installment. It’s these details and the little moments of homage that truly make this film sing. The writing adds a spark of life to a franchise that by all rights should’ve died twenty-five years ago. Add to that stellar acting performances from Jordan and Stallone where Jordan oozes charisma and empathy like Razor Ramon oozes machismo, and Stallone turns in his best performance since the end of First Blood and you have a real winner. This movie hit harder emotionally than it had any right to and I highly recommend it.