No, things in the Rocky universe are still not at rest, even after being set in motion over forty years ago (with the first Rocky film coming out in 1976). That’s because these films brilliantly reflect life itself, which will never be at rest until that veil is lifted and the roll is called up yonder – and I don’t mean Philadelphia. Granted, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the series, but I can appreciate the realistic tone and the vibrant tenor that Sylvester Stallone wrote into these stories (yes, Stallone wrote the first six Rocky films). And the greatest accolade I can give Creed – this new film written not by Stallone but by Ryan Coogler (writer and director of Fruitvale Station) and Aaron Covington (this being his first major film) – is that it fits perfectly with the rest of them.
The story of Creed, though, doesn’t start immediately after the events of Rocky Balboa but further back in 1998, when a juvenile Adonis Johnson is locked up for being a vicious fighter. In one of his moments of detention, a woman comes to tell him that he needs to stop acting like his father and come live with her. Never having known his father, the boy is intrigued and accepts the woman’s offer. The boy is then revealed (but like we didn’t already know) to be Adonis Creed, son via extramarital affair of the boxing legend Apollo Creed, and that woman is Apollo’s widow Mary Anne. From there, we see young Donnie grow into a professional boxer trained by none other than Rocky Balboa, the only man who could beat his father.
The relationship that unfolds between these two characters is the driving force of this film, and Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone give it their best in their performances. They play off of each other as if they’ve known each other their whole lives – which really comes in handy in the comedic moments as well as the dramatic sequences. Shout out to Tessa Thompson (most recently from Selma) as singer-songwriter-turned-love-interest Bianca, who spiritually hurts from losing her hearing and thus her livelihood but finds the solace she needs in encouraging and sharpening Donnie.
Just a quick note on the technical side, the pacing of the editing really intrigued me. Most scenes throughout the film seemed cut short – not that they were lacking anything, but it was just enough of a jilt to make it noticeable. And the only good thing about it is that it gives the more powerful scenes – in some of which an entire shot lasts for the duration of an entire fight – all the more emphasis and power.
The Christian Angle: The Lost Son
It’s a touching sequence: Donnie has just been knocked down for a ten-count. He staggers back to his feet and the barely makes it to his corner before stumbling down again. He’s already taken a beating beyond anything he’s experienced up to this point in the film, and he doesn’t look like he can take much more. Rocky recognizes this situation because he saw it years ago with Donnie father Apollo when he fought the Russian (as depicted in Rocky IV) the match that ended Apollo’s life. Rocky doesn’t want Donnie to die in the ring like his father did, so he pleads with Donnie – who, by this point, can no longer see out of his left eye – to forfeit the match. But Donnie refuses to give up because he feels like he has to prove, verbatim, that he isn’t a “mistake.” (I’d be lying if I said I did not cry at this moment.)
Without spoiling how the fight ends, I can say that Donnie finds his solace and his comfort in the arms of his friends and family; though they’ve had to step back and let him do all this “fighting” thing by himself, they were never ever too far out of his reach. While he was in the ring, they were in the corners, in the audience, and at home praying for him and encouraging him all the way. Though he left them to go prove his point, they never left him because they knew that when times got tough, he would need them.
Donnie can thus be understood as the prodigal son that Jesus tells his followers about in Luke 15. Donnie wants his inheritance – his own boxing career away from his father’s namesake and sphere influence – and his efforts get him further than expected. But after realizing that he can’t make it any further without that kind of familial support, he ends up coming home to the family that he never had; instead of his late father Apollo and his mother who he never met, he comes home to Uncle Rocky and Mary Anne. And it is a beautiful homecoming indeed.