Ego and frustration are a dangerous mix, as Creed wishes to present. It is no good to follow in the footsteps of the father, and there is a necessary need to prove yourself for what you are. That is the delightfully simple meaning behind this spin-off to the Rocky franchise. To coalesce the desire a fighter feels with his fearful mother’s rough and simple implications is one of the many great impacts Creed has on its audience. It can do so seamlessly, and effectively. That crucial blur is something the Rocky franchise would only manage half of the time. For Creed to come out not just as a superior piece to half of the franchise that laid the groundwork for it but to also dust the cobwebs off of some rather meek, inefficient direction, is an excellent way of revitalising a series that meant so much to so many.
Placing Ryan Coogler in the directing chair is a stunningly good choice. He doesn’t just understand Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) but Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) too. Providing room for the generational gap to grow and flourish, Creed is as much a film about challenging the champion from a place of misery as it is a strong showcase of how generations come together with a common goal in mind. These are flawed, good characters. Boxing for both of these characters was an escape from the harsh realities they had to deal with. It is happenstance that they were able to reach the top of their game. That is not down to skill or luck, it is presented as a series of events completely out of their control. For Balboa, it was a hobby, for Creed, it is the same, but also a channel for his frustrations and anger.
Capturing those feelings of rage so well, Jordan gives a supremely strong performance. If he is to carry the torch of the Creed series, and with it the memory of Rocky and their characters, then he does a good job of it here. One of the key variations of Adonis Creed is that he is at least content. He quits his job, for it is “just not for me,” and that is something we can truly appreciate. He has the calibre and legacy of Apollo Creed behind him, and such an impact presents him with the chance to prove himself. Shadowboxing as the Superfight between Balboa and Creed from all those decades ago plays on the screen behind him is a marvellous shot. It implies Creed will follow in his father’s footsteps, but it is more than that. He is out to prove himself for what he is, not just improve upon the long-lasting impact his father holds on the boxing world.
Hard it may be to write Creed off as just a rendition of the Rocky franchise, it more or less is. But there is more assurance, confidence and character within Creed than there is in the strongest pockets of Rocky. They are not identical films, but the core of an underdog rising to the top of the pile is still preserved. That is the necessary inevitability of Creed, and its desire to prove a new character as a goldmine of story and opportunity is a success. Tougher, harsher, and far more focused on the brutal youth and upbringing, the impact sport can have on struggling individuals is an important message, one that Creed captures so well. Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa may have much in common, but where they differ is how they throw a strong, narrative punch.