Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stalone
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Drama
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 4.5
I’ve never watched the Rocky films and I hate most sports films, so if I cried while watching this on a 15 hour plane ride I want y’all to know this was absolutely not the fault of my own damn sentimentality. No, this was just a good film, period.
Creed follows Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, Adonis, who despite being raised by Creed’s wife Mary Anne with the wealth and resources and education to escape the life of a fighter, dreams about going professional. He quits his day job to pursue the goal, but quickly realises that his father’s old friends are more interested in protecting him from the pursuit that ultimately killed Apollo. Adonis, going by Donny Johnson (his mother’s maiden name), moves to Philadelphia to seek his father’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa. Though Rocky is initially wary and reluctant, Adonis’ confidence and determination sway him, and he soon finds himself up against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, a British fighter who is looking for one last hurrah before going away to jail for the last of his prime fighting years.
One of the film’s major themes is that of legacy and this applies in more ways than one. Adonis is, of course, initially incredibly reluctant to take on his father’s legacy––he wants to become known on his own terms, not his father’s, and I see a lot of this in the film itself. Donny takes on a name that reads much differently from his father’s––even his first name connects him to the Greek divinity his fathers name hearkens to––while Creed, though a Rocky sequel, does not use Rocky’s name. And though ultimately the film hearkens back to many of the originals, including the presence and role of Rocky himself, this is a new film for a new age. It’s a sports film in that it hits all of the points you expect out of a sports film, but those plot points never feel like they were present for presence’s sake––everything in this film feels earned.
There’s no single training montage that’s meant to make us believe that he’s ready to take on the reigning world champion, but we regularly see him training. There’s no obvious villain a la Rocky IV (see, I do my research) –– while Ricky Conlan can come across as a douche, his rationale for wanting to take on Adonis are perfectly understandable––he’s going away for the rest of his fighting days, and he needs to leave his children something to live on. And the relationship between Bianca and Adonis feels like it’s truly earned––their relationship isn’t a given simply because she’s the only and most conventionally pretty girl in the script (though I mean, there is that), and the problems in their relationship are not drama for drama’s sake––they are different people with different priorities and goals, and it shows. And they work for this relationship, and there’s this particular scene where they’re in her room and he’s helping her with her hair and it’s the tenderest moment.
My one criticism of Bianca’s character, though, is that while she starts off as this individual person with her own individual goals and her own struggle (she’s a musician who has progressive hearing loss; its her blasting of the music that leads them to meet to begin with), towards the end she is quickly consumed into this legacy of Apollo and Adonis Creed. She begins to serve primarily as Donny’s cheerleader and counselor, convincing him to finally take on his father’s name so that he can fight Ricky Conlan. Part of me understands, plot-wise, that this was probably a necessary thing, since it’s ultimately a story about Adonis and not Bianca, but the other part of me is also painfully aware that this has been a trope time and time again for women to be repeatedly roped into other people’s narratives to serve as cheerleaders for men. And on my imaginary third hand, it’s also so rare to see so strong and supportive a relationship between two Black characters in so large a film, particularly in a film that is part of so iconic a film franchise.
Overall, this film felt like really fresh take on a really old franchise, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone, including people like myself who haven’t watched a Rocky film before.