Over a month since it’s theatrical release, I knew I still wanted to see Creed, the spin-off of the iconic Rocky series, originally starring Sylvester Stallone. I also knew that I had yet to finish the series having only viewed the first from 1976. I decided out of my own curiosity and cinephile credibility, I would watch the rest of the Rocky films from 2-6 in order to appreciate the backstory of Ryan Coogler‘s tribute and continuation of such storied settings and characters in Creed.
Coogler, who helmed the reenactment of the death of Oscar Grant in 2013’s Fruitvale Station, disclosed in interviews that he had grown up adoring the Rocky films thanks to his father. He had envisioned the journey of Rocky Balboa’s late friend Appollo Creed’s youngest son Adonis and how he would’ve pursued his place in boxing. This is not only cool but ambitious to bring to fruition as plenty of us have these kinds of revelations once a fan of a particular franchise or artist(s). It’s an exercise in creativity to think if you were at the wheel, what would you do with such characters? (I’m actually guilty of doing this all the time. Same for songs. Regardless of whether a music video was made, I got my own visions going like wildfire). That’s essentially how Fifty Shades of Grey developed. E.L. James‘ notorious erotic-lite books were fan fiction tales rooted from Stephanie Meyer‘s Twilight. An awkward exhibit A, yes, but an example nonetheless.
My marathon was just in time as Netflix actually had all of the Rockys available. The only catch being ’til January 1. I had to scour online for 5 and 6, the latter being Rocky Balboa from 2006.
So my consensus prior to Creed? I liked the first Rocky, which I viewed on television three years ago. But I love the whole series now. It was as inspirational, aspirational and honest as I had hoped and heard about. Critical viewpoints aside as far as which Rocky is better (4 is great. Balboa made me cry at the end. 5 was good but for some it’s their least favorite and I can now see why because the script completely gives up at the end), every single film contains a lot of heart. Rocky, as a fictional character, is synonymous with the credo of the everyday man (or woman, as his wife Adrian represented), the American Dream and the sometimes humbling road it takes to achieve success.
I was emotionally invested when Rocky forged ahead with boxing challenges, despite any uneasiness he might’ve felt. I was fired up every time he started training. And when that classic Bill Conti music of “Gonna Fly Now”, would play, as it does in every film including Creed, I felt so invigorated. Like that sweet part in Rocky II where he’s running through the city of Philly and by the time he reaches the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the children of every color that joined along the way rejoice with him…I damn near cried. And I swear, from now on in 2016, every time I manage to stop myself from making a stupid mistake or actually proceed in life like an adult, Conti’s legendary tune will play in my head. Love is the ideal key to life. But perseverance is an extremely close second. #RockyTaughtMe
Creed, I was so excited to watch. The proposed Rocky of my and the next generation, the film gets right into it, just like the originals. Within 20 minutes, Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan, is in Philadelphia where it all began to get Rocky to train him. Creed is a branch of the tree of legacy in Balboa and Creed circles and the story is quite fascinating to picture. As the love child of Apollo, Adonis was conceived outside of his father’s already marriage. Out of the kindness of her heart, that same wife Mary Anne Creed, played by Phylicia Rashad (always a pleasure to see) raises him in L.A. and the mansion left behind by Creed’s estate.
Adonis carries a familiar dream of wanting to make his (unique) family proud but in wanting to earn his birthright to be in the ring. He wants to belong there not out of nepotism, but sheer strength (pun). Onscreen, the journey is believable, heartwarming and tough. Stallone returns as Rocky and hasn’t missed one heartbeat of the only character that rivals Rambo as the most emblematic of his career. By the end, when Adonis has his last major fight in the film, the bond that he has with Rocky and is team feels impenetrable and you will cheer. And those knockout shots between Creed and “Pretty” Ricky Conlan was reportedly filmed in one take, which is remarkable.
Critics were especially fond of Bianca, the singer-songwriter love interest of Adonis, played by Tessa Thompson. And she was fantastic (here for when she said “jawn” in that Philly girl accent), but one question. Was she based off of real-life indie singer Kelela? From the braids to the sexy, futuristic music Bianca composed in the film, her skeleton seemed tapped from Kelela. Watch the film and then listen to the former’s latest EP Hallucinogen to understand the comparison.
Coogler’s passion project (dreamt of even before Fruitvale Station) was greenlit by studios, blessed by Stallone’s presence and certified as a voice of its own. Creed unravels on a common ground yet like its predecessors aggrandize the old as sage truths of self-belief and discipline over doubt and heartbreak.