The character of Rocky Balboa is something truly unique in Hollywood. When we met him 39 years ago in Rocky I don’t think anybody would imagine we would see him appear in a new movie released in 2015 still being played by the same actor. It’s the only character in movie history that we have actually followed and see growing old over the course of almost 4 decades. That is truly something special, especially when you consider all the reboots and remakes that are released every year. Can you imagine Robert Downey Jr. playing an elderly Iron Man in 30 years? I’m pretty sure by then all the Marvel movies have been given reboots.
To be honest, at its core Creed is a reboot of the Rocky franchise with Stallone passing down the torch to his rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis. But since he and both Rocky share the same amount of screen time as well as character development this is as much Creed I as it is Rocky VII.
At a young age troublesome youngster Adonis Johnson is taken in by Apollo Creed’s widow Mary Anne. Because she has a better bookkeeper than Rocky did, she is still wealthy and able to provide Adonis with an education. In the opening scenes we see him quit a job at an office where his superior has just promoted him because he feels he’s a fighter, much to the displeasure of Mary Anne who saw her husband die in the ring in Rocky IV. Adonis is an undefeated champion at underground boxing fights in Mexico, but he’s trying to become a professional fighter in the U.S. Because nobody wants him to fight he’s turned down at his father’s gym by Duke jr. who is of course the son of the Duke that both trained Apollo and Rocky. His last resort is going to Philadelphia and try to enlist restaurant owner Rocky Balboa as his trainer, something which the retired boxer (and trainer) is hesitant to do. Only when he finds out Adonis is Apollo’s son, does he slowly change his mind, making his life and the series come full circle. Sadly impending doom is right around the corner as Rocky is diagnosed with cancer as Adonis is challenged to a fight by the reigning world champion merely based on who his father was.
Written and directed by Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, Creed is a movie that tries to capture the essence of what made the Rocky movies work. Throughout the picture there are a lot of elements lifted from mostly the first, second and sixth picture creating a movie with a familiar feel as well as finding a new direction to take this series in.
Coogler shows us his love for long takes as there are multiple scenes in which the camera seems to be rolling forever without a cut. One of the most impressive uses of that being an entire bout between Adonis and an opponent which has been filmed without cuts. It’s a scene of which Martin Scorsese would be jealous of.
Creed works as a standalone movie, but is filled with nostalgia for the fans of the original Rocky series. Largely set in Philadelphia, not only does Rocky Balboa himself return, but also some of this series’ landmarks like Mighty Mick’s gym, Rocky’s restaurant “Adrian’s” and the famous steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some scenes are takes on memorable scenes from the Rocky series like Rocky training Adonis to catch a chicken, Adonis running through the streets of Philadelphia with teens on bikes following him and a touching scene in which Rocky visits the graves of Adrian and Paulie where he reads the paper on a chair that he still has stored up on that tree.
While the character of Adonis Johnson certainly has potential to become an iconic character all by himself, the star of the show in Creed is Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Not surprising given the fact that this was his breakout role and the character of Rocky Balboa has always been one of Hollywood’s more endearing (and enduring) characters. The theme of the movie might be about Adonis trying to step out of the shadow of his father, but in reality his character is trapped in the shadow of Rocky Balboa. Stallone, usually regarded as a one-note action star, shows us once again that he has real acting chops when it comes down to playing layered characters. There is a touching scene in which Rocky talks about his son who is leading his own life in Vancouver while holding a picture of him and his real life son who died a couple of years ago. The way he talks about him is heart wrenching. This is without a doubt his best performance in years.
It’s also nice to see him play a character for once that is actually as old as he is in real life.
As much as Creed taps into the Rocky movies, Stallone is the only character from this series to actually return being played by the same character. Mary Anne is now played by Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) and the only character from a previous Rocky movie to be in Creed. Paulie’s deceased, his son Robert living in Canada, Duke and Marie’s whereabouts are unknown. It’s an understandable choice considering the movie’s subject is Adonis Creed and not Rocky Balboa, but I wouldn’t have mind seeing Rocky live with Marie or Paulie still being alive.
One of the most memorable things about Rocky is the soundtrack by Bill Conti. The soundtrack of Creed is filled with old school rap songs and an instrumental theme very reminiscent of that of Conti, but never as memorable or instantly recognizable. There is a moment when the original Rocky theme song is heard and while I welcomed the moment but it’s one of those moments in the movie that makes Adonis stand in the shadow of Rocky. Adonis deserves his own epic theme song, but sadly Creed does not provide him with one. Maybe Creed II will provide him with one.
Creed successfully breathes new life into a franchise that has been around for so long, and does so by respecting the series’ origins and should set an example of how to remake/reboot a movie (series) the right way.