Brad Johnson is a screenwriter promoting the mantra “Read scripts, watch movies, and write pages.” Brad also works as a script consultant for writers of all levels to develop and grow their screenwriting toolbox. Follow Brad on Twitter @RWWFilm.
Even if it wasn’t such an enjoyable film, CREED would still be an interesting cinematic exercise. Rather than trying to breath new life into the Rocky franchise with yet another sequel – a huge risk considering how well the previous installment, ROCKY BALBOA, tied up the titular pugilist’s story and how well it was received by both audiences and critics alike – or going the ever popular “reboot” path that so many franchises take these days, CREED is something altogether new and different.
Focusing this time on Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed, CREED is forged as an amalgam of these other choices; following a brand new character while simultaneously sticking (mostly) to the story beats of the original ROCKY. And for the most part, it works amazingly well.
Michael B. Jordan continues to showcase his skill as an actor, not to mention his Chris Pratt-esque transformation for the role, while director Ryan Coogler (who previously worked with Jordan on the amazing FRUITVILLE STATION) shows impressive skill in capturing the heart of Adonis’s story while still giving the audience the amazing set pieces they demand. This is especially true during a two-round prize fight that Coogler shoots as a single, continuous take.
As a protagonist, Adonis is a fascinating character that is just as broken inside as Rocky was when we first saw him on screen in 1976 and he explores the themes of the original movie with his own spin – rather than Rocky’s need to prove to himself that he isn’t a bum, Adonis needs to establish that his very existence wasn’t a mistake. But there are times where CREED’s attempt to match the original, story beat for story beat, just doesn’t ring true.
The first thing that doesn’t sit right is the fact that Adonis keeps insisting that his life has been a constant struggle and, although he certainly started out in a tough spot in life – we first see him as the movie opens as a kid lost in the system after his mother died – the film asks audiences to buy that his entire life has been hard knocks after we’ve already seen him sitting on the marble steps of the luxurious Creed family mansion where he grew up. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and a far cry from Rocky’s rough-and-tumble life as an enforcer for the mob.
Additionally, Adonis’s love interest feels a bit shallow. In the original we saw Rocky and Adrian as two broken souls finally finding each other and fixing each other. Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) have good chemistry together, but it never feels like they need one another.
Ironically, for all of CREED’s attempts to stick to the formula of the original ROCKY, it’s where it branches out that it really shines. The relationship that Adonis forms with Rocky in the film – as trainer, father figure, and source of motivation for their individual fights – resonates well after the lights come up in the theater, and are the most effective parts of the film by far.
Ultimately, CREED stands tall, both as a new installment in a storied franchise, and on its own as the story of man trying to find his place in the world and make peace with the father (and the legacy) he never knew.