You patiently wait for it. You get a little tease when a hint of the theme is heard on piano when Rocky has a sad moment. But then, just when the last round of the climactic fight starts, bam! Bill Conti’s trumpet fanfare–the Rocky theme etched into our brains almost forty years ago.
Full disclosure: I have not seen any of the Rocky films except the first one. I figured they were all cash grabs and there was no need for any of the others. Creed, though, struck me differently. It is directed by an actual film director, Ryan Coogler (has Sylvester Stallone ever directed a good movie?) and Stallone did not even write this. It casts Rocky Balboa as a supporting character (although he has plenty of screen time) and while the template is the same–underdog takes on arrogant champ–there is a whole different, fresh feeling about it.
Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson. In a prologue, when Adonis is about ten, he is taken out of a juvenile home by Phylicia Rashad, who is Apollo Creed’s widow (he was killed in the ring in a previous film). Turns out he is Creed’s illegitimate son, but Rashad raises him as his own. He lives in luxury and is well-educated, having a great job at a financial firm. But he has the boxing jones, and goes to Tijuana for club fights. Since no one will train him in his hometown of L.A., he goes to Philadelphia to see if Rocky Balboa will train him.
Rocky resists, but not too hard, and Jordan will end up beating the flashy fighter at Mighty Mick’s Gym, and then, when it is revealed to the world that he is Apollo Creed’s son, the champ’s trainer and manager thinks it will be a nice payday for his guy to fight him, providing he changes his name to Creed. That fighter is played by Tony Bellew, a Liverpudlian, who is facing a prison term for a gun charge.
There’s plenty to like here. There’s a lot that is familiar–we get not one but two training montages, there’s a sweet romance between Jordan and his downstairs neighbor, a singer (Tessa Thompson, who is far too good-looking not to have already had a boyfriend), and Stallone as Rocky, with his thick, mumbly voice. Paulie and Adrian are dead, and who wouldn’t get a little choked up when he visits their graves. But they throw something at him that’s a bit much, though for a Rocky movie I guess is par for the course.
I imagine almost every director wants to make a boxing film, and Coogler makes the most of it. The first right is shown in real time (it only last two rounds) and is shot in extreme close-up. The second fight is also well-done, although doesn’t take the liberties that Rocky did (there’s no “cut me, Mick,” which would have never happened). The outcome is in great doubt. I also liked that so many familiar boxing people, like Michael Buffer and Jim Lampley, lend a realistic sheen to the proceedings. And Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon kill their cameo.
I don’t know of any other character that has been played by one actor for a longer period of time, not even Antoine Donel. James Bond has been around longer, but played by different actors and never aging. Rocky is unique in film in that he has been portrayed by the same actor for almost forty years, and people have never really tired of him. There may yet be another film, as Creed ends with things hanging. I think I would be up for Creed II.