When Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler, 2015) was officially announced, it garnered some eye rolls. A reboot/sequel/spinoff, the film functioned as the seventh installment in the Rocky franchise. While Rocky (dir. John Avildsen, 1976) presented a touching and gritty character study enveloped inside of a sports movie, the five sequels it spawned became increasingly less grounded. Rocky IV (dir. Sylvester Stallone, 1985) culminated in a boxing match that ended the cold war. While admittedly a frisson-inducing moment, it cannot be denied this was a step away from the level of storytelling seen in Rocky. Where would they go next to up the ante in Creed?
The film surprised audiences, with Stallone taking a backseat role behind Michael B. Jordan’s leading character. It was the subject of critical and commercial success. But let us take a step back from any acclaim the film may have received and focus on why it succeeds conceptually as a sequel/reboot.
Creed, in my opinion, delivers a captivating story that could exist independently. If re-written without the inclusion of Rocky elements, all the elements for a successful film are still there. Michael B. Jordan’s performance, Ryan Coogler’s expert direction, the themes of family, race, class; these are all still present. I mentioned earlier this week that franchise films can provide a spotlight for original and exceptional ideas, and this is the perfect example. The recognition of the Rocky character attracted much more attention to the film then it probably would have received without him. But beyond this, I would argue the film is an especial example of a sequel/reboot because it is exalted by its continuation of the overarching story, even though it does not necessarily rely on it to function.
The connection to established characters and settings adds to the emotional weight of the film. The central theme revolves around family, as the main character struggles with the legacy of his father. The father is not featured, although the audience is already familiar with the character through previous movies, strengthening our connection to the relationship. While focusing on establishing a new generation of characters, Creed manages to develop older characters further, and add more depth to their arcs without detracting from the present story.
My discussion can be encapsulated by looking at the climax of Creed. The emotional payoff found would have been triumphant regardless, but the return of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” makes it feel that much more fulfilling. A balance is struck between both the old and the new, making this installment feel worthwhile.