One of the recurring concepts I’ve seen in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens reviews is that two 2015 movies have become shorthand for long-awaited sequels, Jurassic World and Creed. Like Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Rocky both had their last sequel come out about a decade ago. Also, they return to the formula of the first movie in the franchise while focusing on new characters, with returning favorites added in to pass the torch. The difference being Creed had the smarts to build on and redeem the Rocky franchise, while Jurassic World merely expressed an affection for Jurassic Park and not even necessarily its sequels.
We all know that Apollo Creed died heroically fighting for freedom and James Brown against the Soviet parody of humanity, Ivan Drago, shortly before the Italian Stallion saved the western world. What we didn’t know was that Apollo had an affair that resulted in a pregnancy before his big comeback. It’s perhaps an unfair way to diminish that character, especially since Carl Weathers wasn’t in the film, but given Apollo’s discontent at the start of Rocky IV, it’s not entirely far-fetched. Anyway, that child, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is born after his father’s death, especially unfortunate because Adonis is a natural fighter.
The younger Creed ends up being adopted and raised by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad), but a comfortable life isn’t for him. Adonis quits he sweet office job and moves to a tiny Philadelphia apartment in search of the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, perhaps the least necessary parenthetical I’ve ever written) to train him. Rocky’s still running his restaurant and visiting Adrian’s grave every day, but he takes a liking to the kid and feels something of a debt to Apollo. Also, Adonis meets a beautiful neighbor (Tessa Thompson) in a cute little subplot that probably isn’t necessary but is important to maintaining The Formula and setting things up for Creed Part II: Rocky VIII.
Creed was directed by Ryan Coogler (who previously collaborated with Jordan on his directorial debut, Fruitvale Station), based on a script by him and Aaron Covington. That’s a big change of pace for the series, which had thus far mostly been written and directed by Stallone himself. For that reason, I went in expecting a modern boxing movie with some Rocky flavor thrown in. That is not the case, as once Rocky gets into the movie, he becomes a de facto co-lead. And while a contemporary and more down-to-earth film than you might expect from this franchise, tonally I don’t think it was that far from where Stallone left it in Rocky Balboa.
Ultimately, I found Creed a very pleasing film – one I think would be satisfying for newcomers but remaining quite rewarding for long-time fans. My biggest gripe was a little one: Where were Apollo’s other kids? I’m pretty sure we saw Apollo and his wife had a daughter and a son in the other movies. This is the kind of thing that could have been easily addressed in a throw away line, but it wasn’t, so now I’m worried. Come on guys, what’s the canon here?