‘Creed’ Joins Rocky Series

Gail Arneke

Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, music by Ludwig Goransson, starring: Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson (Creed), Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne Creed, Tessa Thompson as Bianca, Graham McTavish as “Pretty” Ricky Conlon’s trainer, Tommy Holiday, Tony Bellew as Ricky Conlon.

The seventh installment of the Rocky series begins in 1998, with a look at the very young Adonis, in trouble yet again at a Los Angeles youth detention facility. His life looks pretty hopeless until Apollo Creed’s widow, Mary Anne, shows up to take him home with her. Adonis is Apollo’s son by a liaison with someone whose name was apparently Johnson and who is now dead. Apollo died before Adonis was born.

Flash forward seventeen years and Adonis has a career at a securities firm, nice suits and a nice place to live and a new promotion. But his real love is boxing, and he spends all the time he can in Mexico, where he is undefeated in fifteen fights. Adonis tells Mary Anne that he wants to follow his dream of boxing and does some training and some boxing in Los Angeles before deciding, after following Apollo and Rocky’s fights on YouTube, that he needs Rocky as a trainer.

Mary Anne is appalled that Adonis wants to fight, and Rocky is skeptical when Adonis tracks him down in Philadelphia. Rocky by now is running his restaurant (“Adrian’s Restau­rant”) and drifting peacefully along. He visits Adrian’s grave—and Paulie Pennino’s, next to her—bringing Adrian a rose and Paulie a pint of Four Roses. He reads the paper with them, then goes on home. Rocky asks Adonis why anyone would want to fight “If they didn’t have to.” Well, Adonis has to. He talks the reluctant Rocky into helping him train. Rocky sets him up in a gym grubby enough to have been in the original movie, and a lot of the old Rocky crowd is around to help out. While Adonis trains the living daylights out of himself, finding a very nice singer, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, to be his girlfriend, and generally moving into Rocky’s house, trouble is brewing in the boxing world.

The current light heavyweight title-holder, “Pretty” Ricky Conlon, played by the actual fighter Tony Bellew, has been sentenced to jail in England, his home, for some infraction I’ve forgotten. He has scheduled one more fight to ensure that his family will have money to live on. Unfortunately, he breaks the opponent’s jaw at the weigh-in, and his manager/trainer, Tommy Holiday, portrayed by Graham Mc­Tavish, searches for someone to replace the downed opponent.

Adonis’s training—shown in the pains­tak­ing detail of the original Rocky, if not more— is about ready for prime time when the news breaks of his being Apollo Creed’s son. The alert Holiday rushes to Philadelphia to sign Creed to fight Conlon. As Rocky, equally alert, notes, this will be a sure win for Conlon and a huge draw with the Creed name. Hand-wring­ing ensues in the Johnson/Creed camp, intensified when Rocky is diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Now comes a part of the movie that long time Rocky fans, who for the most part are not young, can understand with a poignancy we lacked all those years ago. Rocky does not want chemotherapy. It was a nightmare for Adrian and did her no long term good. He’s accomplished everything on this earth he plans to, and he’s content to ride it out.

The plot twists a bit more, and Rocky ac­knowledges that Adonis and Bianca are as family to him, and he does the chemo with Adonis at this side, before they head for Liver­pool for the big fight.

The big fight is everything a viewer would want. Detailed, realistic, well-shot, dramatic. Jim Lampley calls it for HBO. I will not say how it ends, but everybody wins. Review your Rocky history.

At the end, Rocky and Adonis are going up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at a pace many of us over-sixty people will recognize. Again, poignant. They look out over Philadelphia, Rocky telling Adonis he can see his whole life there.

This is a fine movie. See it.

A word about the music: Ludwig Gorans­son told NPR that he wanted his score to be true to the original Rocky theme, and it is. Lower key, maybe, not as much a part of the action as the original, but in keeping with the spirit. And in the climactic fight, the original music booms out, catching the tone of that moment perfectly.

Also, and admirably, the plot develops here without side moves into stuff the viewer can fill in without explication. Why does Mary Anne Creed even know Adonis exists, much less take him in and raise him? We can figure it out in our own heads. Why does Adonis move to Philadelphia without even contacting Rocky and move into an apartment one flight up from Bianca? That’s how plot-driven movies work. Why does Rocky agree to take on this challenge, when his life is pacing along so nicely? Well, he’s Rocky. But really, why are Conlon and Adonis light heavyweights, when Apollo and Rocky were heavyweights?