Review by Gene
Rocky is one of the most well known and beloved characters in movie history. Sylvester Stallone has accomplished quite a bit with this punchy, blue-collor “everyman”. Along the way many other characters in the series of films have notched out their own corner in our memories. Who can forget the shy, humble working girl that would inspire one of the most famous lines ever; “Yo Adrian, we did it!”. Or the crotchety old trainer who would just as soon verbally abuse our champ as protect him. And of course who can forget Rocky’s original foe; Apollo Creed.
It is from the extra-marital endeavors of this beloved American boxer that we find the inspiration for a new angle on the Rocky saga. Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of the famed Apollo Creed. We join his story early on and learn a good deal from the way a juvenile detention officer describes him; “He’s a good kid. He just fights. All the time”. Growing up Adonis was raised by his estranged step-mother in the home of his father, yet he refuses to go by the Creed name. We get the clear sense that he’s running from that identity, doing everything he can to make his own way and avoid being defined, and judged, by that name. To the point that, while watching old film of his father boxing Rocky, he shadow boxes as Rocky. This visual cue serves as a telling expression of how Adonis feels about his father. These are feelings that will surface at key points later on.
Creed is 29-year-old director Ryan Coogler’s second feature length film, the other being Fruitvale Station (also starring Michael B. Jordan). Coogler has described his love for the Rocky films as a bonding element with he and his father and brother. It’s no wonder then how he was able to tap into a lot of aspects of the fatherly relationships in Creed; the desire to please, for connection and affirmation. Adonis shares many of these desires not for his father, but for his “stand-in” father, Rocky. Adonis requests Rocky as a trainer, which Rocky initially refuses. After some time and prodding Rocky agrees and we begin not just the training of a legend’s son, but the road to discovering one’s true identity.
And that is the underlying theme present throughout the film; discovering peace in accepting our identity. Adonis not only wants to make a name for himself out of the shadow of his father, but he runs from his father’s name. When confronted with it he becomes angry and physically violent. Despite that, he gravitates toward people and places where he finds pieces of his father. He’s drawn to boxing, he seeks out Rocky to train with, he talks trash like his dad. He is his fathers son in numerous ways, but he acts like he doesn’t want to be. He rebels. It isn’t until he accepts the fact that he is a Creed that he begins to find peace with it. He embraces who he really is rather than running from it. Through embracing his name he is able to carve out of that his own identity and more completely define who he is.
The story of Adonis facing his true nature under his father is a microcosm of people finding their true nature in the Father. Just as Adonis ran from who he was, we constantly run from who we are. We are rebellious, we are defiant, we want things arranged to please ourselves rather than to please the Father. In fact we do this so much that God often turns us over to those desires and allows us to find the futility in them (Rom. 1:21-25). In our hearts we want the same thing as the resistant Adonis did. But in reality it isn’t until we bring our desires (our identity) in line with what God would have for us (becoming grafted into his church) that we can grasp a true and unwavering hope of eternity. A hope that is only secure in finding our identity, not in in ourselves, but in Jesus.
My Rating: 4.5/5
No less than four times did I get chills in some part of this film. Whether it’s an emotional connection grabbing me, or a musical score hitting precisely the right tone, this movie is an excellent… dare I say perfect addition to the Rocky series. I’m watching Sylvester Stallone embody this elderly, borderline fragile man and I’m thinking to myself “wasn’t this the guy I just saw kicking butt in Expendables?” He finds his space perfectly in this film. Never overshadowing Michael B. Jordan or even fighting for the lead, but complimenting him perfectly. If you weren’t already convinced of Jordan’s acting skills then this film should solidify it for you. He does play the angry young man a lot, but there were moments of softness and vulnerability in this film that he nailed every bit as much as the moments of anger and rage.
Surprise performance and major kudos to Phylicia Rashad. She really carried a lot of the opening act and settled me into the right mood for the rest of the movie without coming off as an afterthought for the introduction and foundation of Adonis. There are two things that stick out ever so slightly while watching it that knock it down every so slightly. One is that there were a couple “legacy” moments where Coogler is trying to recapture the spirit of an iconic shot from the original Rocky movies, but it feels unwarranted and forced at that moment, creating the feeling of a cliche’ that this movies doesn’t need. The next is a complaint on a choice by the Director of Photography; there were a lot of close-ups. Even during the fights. On occasion it felt suitable but often I was thinking to myself why are we so close? But seriously, that is being very picky and I fully recognize that. That’s almost definitely the type of thing that won’t bother me on my TV at home. This was an amazingly excellent movie. Go see it now!