2015 has turned out to be the year of the franchise films. With the much anticipated releases of a new James Bond film, a new Avengers movie and of course the highly anticipated Star Wars return. Movie studios love franchise movies because they are usually easy money. Fans love franchise movies because of what they remind us of. Be it a time or place in our life or a feeling that they gave us. It’s the love of the character or characters that keep us coming back. We always can be too critical of the most recent film when they are released, but without a doubt we keep coming back for more. Not to be lost in the mix of new additions in this area has been the return of Rocky Balboa. Rocky returns in a way for a new generation to appreciate. Second time director Ryan Coogler, who made a name for himself in his feature length debut, Fruitvale Station. Fruitvale was the true telling of a young man who was gunned down by police at a transit station in the Bay Area of California. In Fruitvale Coogler teamed up with Michael B. Jordan and it would be this tandem that would be able to convince Sylvester Stallone to reprise his most iconic role.
Stallone thought he was done with Rocky nine years ago when he wrote and directed Rock Balboa with the idea that it would close the franchise just the way he wanted. It turns out it would still be the last Rocky picture he would write and/or direct. After reading Coogler’s script and seeing his debut film, Stallone was sold.
Creed focuses on a brand new angle on the series. A young foster child named Adonis is eventually taken in by his father’s widow. It’s then when he begins to learn who his father was and where his desire to fight comes from. The son of an extramarital affair, Adonis grows up in the house his father’s success built. Raised with every opportunity he could never shake the deep desire to box. Adonis learns what little about boxing that he knows from watching his fathers old fights. Adonis, or Donnie as he prefers to be called, refuses to ride the coat tails of his father and tries to keep his legacy a secret and uses his mothers name, Johnson.
Donnie eventually reaches the point where he can’t stop the urges to attack his dream to be a fighter like his father. After picking up and leaving the comfort of his home and security, he makes his way to Philadelphia to seek out his fathers friend and greatest rival, the legendary Rocky Balboa. He arrives in the small restaurant Rocky started, Adrian’s, and begins dropping facts that peaks Rockys interest as to who this young man is. When Adonis reveals who he is, Rocky is obviously taken aback. When he learns that Donnie wants to be trained by him, his first reaction is defensive. Fighting every urge to dive back into the world of boxing, he takes on Adonis and does his best to be to him what Mickey was to himself.
It isn’t long until the sporting world discovers who Adonis is and who his father was. Drawing attention in the boxing world, soon he is offered a marquee fight for the light heavyweight championship. The current title holder is facing an almost certain prison sentence that will take away his prime fighting years and is in desperate need of a payday that will secure his family while he’s away and further.
Despite Rockys trepidation, they agree to the fight. With minimal experience on a high level, this could be dangerous. It is not long after the acceptance that health issues befall Rocky and put everything in jeopardy, including his relationship with Adonis.
Creed taps into everything we love about Rocky without gushing over all of it and being too sentimental. There are undoubtedly similarities to the original, Oscar winning film, but Ryan Coogler goes to great lengths to make this film not only stand on its own without taking anything away from what we love about the franchise.
Many young filmmakers are fans of the movies that they grew up watching over and over, the films that shaped them. Not many of these filmmakers have the courage to tackle their loves the way Coogler has done. It’s apparent that J.J. Abrams has taken on a similar task with Star Wars to a greater extreme than he did with Star Trek. But the way Coogler has taken a great and much beloved series and reinvented it without doing the preferred “re-boot”, is something special. He has breathed life into the franchise and given it a way to stay viable for more films if he so chooses. He has kept reality in check by NOT having Rocky fight, which is a relief and acknowledging Rockys age and his limitations. Rocky’s humor is on point as much as Mick’s was throughout the films, which makes sense since Rocky has essentially taken on the role of Mickey.
There are things fans may be disappointed that aren’t inserted or referenced in the film. The first is no one refers to Rocky as the “Italian Stallion” although it is briefly seen on a banner at the gym. The second is what may be one of the most iconic theme songs in movie history. Gonna Fly Now (the official title of the Rocky theme) has a few notes mixed in with a well done modernized score.
Ryan Coogler has done more than enough justice to the franchise and in the process created a new world within it. He has proven to be a writer and director that have gone out and broken down barriers for those who say there is racial disparity amongst Hollywood and he does so without falling into any stereotypes and making the characters accessible to all without losing any culture.
Creed is a well done film and not just a good Rocky movie, but just a really good film that you can’t help enjoy and for some people cheer for in the end.