When it was first announced that there would be another Rocky movie I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.
Seriously, how many times can you tell the same story?
But when the then unnamed film was revealed to center around the illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed my antennae went on full extension. There was just too much of a possibility that they would screw it up and make it a mishmash of quasi-racist troupes and White liberalism.
However, much of that concern was quickly relieved, especially after I heard Ryan Coogler would be directing. Still, a scrutinizing eyebrow remained raised. After all, there had been five Rocky-based movies since the original was released in 1979, and only three of those movies were something that folks would consider kind of good.
Sometimes, the best way to recapture the glory of a watered down series of films is by replicating the troupes that were successful in the other offerings yet be unashamed in that self-pilfering. Creed borrows heavily from the first Rocky offering but seems to know where to draw the line for the sake of originality. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, a young man who is filled with anger and has issues with self-control as a child. He is rescued from a juvenile detention center by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of the dead father he never knew.
Rashad exudes the oftentimes overlooked selfless altruism of many middle aged women in the Black community. Loving, regal and uncompromising are but a few of the attributes she personified in her brief onscreen moments. For his part, Jordan’s portrayal of young Creed is at times fiery, erratic and childish, then he’s resilient, driven and focused the next. Despite that, Mary Anne's love is unwavering.
In the first Rocky, Rocky Balboa was a blue-collar worker who used his brawn to make a living prior to entering the ring. In Creed, Adonis Creed, Donnie to his friends, is living something of a charmed life. His home is the mansion of the father he never knew and he also enjoys a job at a prestigious firm. However, Creed is dissatisfied with that life, which is illustrated by numerous forays into Mexico to fight.
This may have come off as a bit schizophrenic for folks who are unfamiliar with the weight that many young Black males carry around on a day to day basis, but it was apropos as far as I’m concerned. The true measure of Jordan’s portrayal of Adonis Creed was not fully revealed until the final sequence, when he is asked about his legacy after fighting the inspirational and climatic battle against his archrival. Paraphrasing, Creed says “I just wanted to show the world that I’m here for a reason, that I am not a mistake.”
I can certainly relate to that being the catalyst for his ascension.
Prior to seeing the film, it was difficult for me to see how Sylvester Stallone could affect me as a washed up former heavyweight champion of the world.
But I had to take that back.
Stallone was funny, heartwarming and inspirational as old Rocky. Initially, much of the humor centered on his efforts to relate to a young man who he had very little in common with. Additionally, it is revealed that Rocky is suffering from an illness that will kill him if left untreated and Rocky’s reaction is similar to that of many elderly folks when faced with such things, apathy. Rocky is apathetic to the prospect of death because his wife Adrienne is long-dead, his best friend Paulie is dead, his son Rocky, Jr. has fled the city of Philadelphia to get out from under the shadow of his famous father.
Truthfully, Rocky’s life is heartbreaking.
It is inevitable, and expected, that Rocky’s will to live would be directly connected to Creed’s boxing career. It just makes sense. Tessa Thompson is one of my favorite young actresses and I often struggle to not hyperbolize my commentary about her, but Tessa’s portrayal of Bianca is what legitimized the soul of the city of Philly- which is extremely important for a Rocky movie. Thompson is perfect as the aspiring neo-soul singer who’s trying to finish her album before degenerative hearing loss robs her of the ability to hear her own music.
The relationship between Bianca and Creed evolves organically as well. There’s a scene in which she explains to Creed, who is from Los Angeles, the meaning of the term ‘jawn’ and another in which Creed is detangling Bianca’s braids as they have an intimate conversation.
It don’t get much blacker than that.
The fight scenes were fast, dizzying, bloody and somewhat disorienting, but anyone who has ever gotten into a fight would concur that most fights are just that; fast, dizzying, bloody and disorienting.
All and all, I was surprised at how unabashedly Black the movie was. Yes, the lead is Black, the director is Black and the screenwriter was Black, but that means nothing in an age of cultural sellouts. However, the aforementioned Blackness is organic and free flowing. Creed isn’t saying ‘Look at how Black I am’, its saying ‘Look at me, I exist and I just happen to be Black.’
I give Creed a solid A.