“Creed” is a worthy entry in the “Rocky” films pantheon
We live in a world of underdogs. It is a world of our own creation, one where every sideways glance, every misstep, every setback is placed at the feet of some invisible oppressor.
Politicians love to use the natural predisposition towards a downtrodden existence as an excuse to promise change. If we only vote the right way, or buy the right product, or believe the right things, we can stand up and be counted. We can become the success story that has long been denied us.
Everyone is looking for their moment to stare down overwhelming odds and come out on top. Some people have legitimate stumbling blocks to overcome; some people are oppressed in ways we can never imagine. But most of us are only victims of our own narcissism, assuming injustice when there is merely incompetence.
Perhaps this is why sports stories are so powerful. At their core, these are stories about games, about voluntary competition, with roots that begin in youth and continue through to the grave. Teams and contenders are assigned narratives, built through battle terminology, to sate our lust for violent conflict through the arbitrary rules and regulations.
Fighting sports, like MMA and boxing, are perhaps the closest we have to the roots of gladiatorial combat, and as such the stories we assign to fighters are almost always archetypical. They are either noble, humble warriors or dangerous, angry demons.
Archetypes make for stories. The “Rocky” films have been, for generations, purveyors of such archetypes, although the original blurred these lines somewhat. As the series progressed (save for 2006’s “Rocky Balboa”), these archetypes became more and more defined. This year’s sequel, “Creed,” follows the same format, but changes the focus to the son of Apollo Creed, the champion boxer made the sacrificial sidekick of the “Rocky” series. “Creed” is engaging and entertaining, clichéd in the usual Rocky way, and a fitting entry into a long series of Hollywood boxing films.
Everyone in “Creed” is fighting something. Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan) just happens to be the boxer. Donnie, as he’s called, is the illegitimate son of Apollo. After spending years in foster care and group homes, Mary Anne Creed learns of Donnie’s existence and decides to take him in and raise him as her own.
Several years later, Donnie is winning prizefights in Mexico as a self-taught boxer because no one in his life will allow him to train. His desire to fight can’t be contained, however, and Donnie leaves Los Angeles to find his father’s greatest adversary, Rocky Balboa, and receive the training he’s desperate for.
Along the way, he finds a pretty young musician with progressive hearing loss, a sad former boxer with health issues, and a heavyweight champion trying to save his reputation and secure a future for his children.
In its own ham-fisted way, “Creed” is making the argument that everyone is fighting their own battles. No one gets to quit, but it helps to have friends when you need them. “Rocky” movies have never been especially subtle. But the films are banking on the tried-and-true formula outlined in the last “Rocky” film: “It doesn’t matter how hard you hit; it matters how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
To that end, “Creed” is wildly successful. The film is certainly uneven—most of the conversations between Donnie and Bianca can be dismissed as irrelevant—but the fight sequences left members of the audience in my theater cheering. Michael B. Jordon is a talented actor, and director Ryan Coolger, who earned his stripes with 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” does the “Rocky” series justice without being overly sentimental. Sylvester Stallone continues to fit into the character he created in 1976 like a glove, making him as loveable and inspirational as ever.
Rocky Balboa was never much of a boxer. His talent rested with his ability to take more punishment than his opponent. Sylvester Stallone himself has taken as much punishment as the character, dismissed by those that forget that he was nominated for two Academy Awards. But if the “Rocky” franchise is any indication, there are still several rounds to go. “Creed” shows that there’s a lot more fight left.