Creed (2015)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 3, 2015 @ tonymacklin.net.

The road to redemption still goes through Philadelphia. Creed takes it there one more time.

Granted the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, and Flyers aren't on it.

But Rocky Balboa still is.

And, in Creed, he's joined by Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan). Donnie is the illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed.

Adonis is seeking identity - and redemption. He never knew his father, was abandoned by his mother, and unsuccessfully went into various foster homes.

As Creed begins, the young Adonis is in LA in juvenile detention, where Apollo's widow seeks him out and takes him home. He keeps his birth mother's surname. He wants nothing to do with his father.

Then we see him as an adult in a posh financial job, but he walks away from it. He decides to commit to being a boxer.

Adonis tries to get a legitimate trainer, but can't. So he travels to Philly, where he comes in contact with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). But Balboa is totally out of the fight game. Rocky runs the restaurant named after his late wife Adrian. He's slogging along without much purpose. He's just aging. He doesn't want to get into boxing again.

Eventually Rocky and Adonis bond. They provoke each other. They help each other. It's not easy - Rocky has a disease, and Adonis is tormented by the past. They have mutual battles to fight.

Eventually, by happy accidents, Adonis is in a championship fight in England with Rocky in his corner. Creed is an unlikely journey with a predictable outcome. Remember, it is the Rocky franchise.

In a sense, Creed can be taken as a metaphor for Stallone and writer/director Ryan Coogler. Coogler is in the film ring and Stallone is in his corner. They are symbiotic.

The Rocky franchise has a blessed, fortuitous history. Sly Stallone has acted in all seven films, and has written all six before handing the gloves to Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington. Stallone directed four.

The first Rocky (1976) won Best Picture of the Year, and John C. Avildsen won an Oscar for Best Director. Stallone wanted to act, write, and direct Rocky. But he let the producers choose Avildsen. It may have been the best decision in the history of the franchise. Rocky wouldn't have won Best Picture if Stallone had directed.

Stallone directed the next four Rockys, and Avildsen returned to direct the 6th.

Another monumental decision was for Stallone to rework his original script. There were eight or nine rewrites.

Rocky became an enchanting modern fairy tale. The original Stallone screenplays were full of profanity. The tone was much harsher and dark. Mickey was a racist, Paulie was a woman, and Adrian was brash and Jewish.

Most of all, Rocky threw the fight.

Rocky threw the fight ???

Despite his reasons, icons don't throw fights.

Only the Sixers do.

Creed feeds off the previous Rocky films, but it has its greatest connection with the original. The ending of Creed is similar to the ending of Rocky. Plot and music return to 1976. Conti's trumpet music is still wonderfully stirring.

But the young African-American director has a different sense of Philadelphia. It's still Frankford Avenue, Collins Street, and Amber Street. Shooting Rocky, Stallone ate at a cheesesteak at Pat's - Angelo Dundee, Ali's manager says he worked there as a kid, making sandwiches.

In Creed, the popular Pat's - the original home of the cheesesteak invented in 1933 - is replaced by Max's. Pat's supposedly doesn't get much play from blacks. Generally they seem to prefer Max's. Details such as this add credibility.

Times change, and a film figure can, too. At a time where so many films have depressing subjects and shaky resolutions, Creed is a godsend.

No, Stallone doesn't seem to think of himself anymore as a god. Stallone gives a performance without ego. A friend of mine pointed out that Stallone is now the same age as old Burgess Meredith was when he portrayed the trainer in the original Rocky.

In Creed, Rocky is now humble. This Rocky wears mittens. Stallone gives a beautiful rendering. He even allows a shot of the head of his character with just wisps of hair. It's only one shot, but it is revealing.

Michael B. Jordan is convincing as the driven young fighter - at war with the world. Phylicia Rashad is genuine as Apollo's widow, and Tessa Thompson is suitable as the singer who is the love interest. But eventually both characters become just onlookers.

Tony Bellow - an actual pro fighter born in Liverpool - fits the part of the aggressive champion Ricky Conlan.

But sometimes the characters are skimpy.

Creed is not perfect. It has too much length and too few supporting characters with personality. Rocky was full of them.

The original Rocky is 1:59; Creed is 2:13. The extra fourteen minutes could be trimmed to make the film leaner and more consistently potent. The boxing match is awkwardly shot, and Adonis' walk to the ring in England is drawn out. It takes less time to walk to the gallows.

But in general, Creed makes mighty contact.

Philadelphia prevails, too. Philly and the surrounding area even stand-in for the Liverpool, England scenes.

With Creed, the franchise stands in exaltation as the famous Rocky Statue does.

The favorite son prevails with Creed at his side.

Once again, redemption triumphs.

© 2000-2018 Tony Macklin