“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Legacy is the core of the latest film from director Ryan Coogler, Creed. This idea that what we leave behind defines who we are is central to the motives of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) as he attempts to move out of the shadow of his father, Apollo Creed, and create a name for himself. But this idea of legacy is also in the DNA of Creed, a film that stems from the Rocky films — even going as far as to homage to multiple moments from the previous series entries — but does so much to separate itself from the star-making vehicle for Sylvester Stallone and create a new branch in the series as a whole.
Creed follows Adonis, who was living with Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) after bouncing around foster homes, and is now setting himself out to achieve his dream of boxing professionally. He had secured a well-paying job at a financial firm, but the shadow of his father drives him to drop that and pursue boxing. In order to do this, he must leave home and head to Philadelphia — and find Rocky Balboa (Stallone) to train him.
Coogler, who previously directed the very underratingly poignant Fruitvale Station, achieves a mix of homage to the series, but also establishes his own brand and setting Adonis from Rocky without completely taking the 1976 film out of the picture. But, what he achieves above all is creating an engaging environment ripe with commentary on the nuances of following one’s own defined legacy and how the term has been re-branded since the first Rocky film came out.
The inclusion of Rocky as Adonis’ mentor and father figure is imperative to this notion. Stallone gives a sensational performance as a Rocky tired from life up to this point, and a man who is fighting the urges that he once believed in order to do what is right by this kid. Rocky wouldn’t have abandoned Adonis years ago, but he is coming from a different place here. Time has worn on the former champ and he has come to realize that legacy isn’t giving up on life in the ring, it is coming out with enough life left to live it with others around you.
Adonis doesn’t agree. When the two first interact, he argues with Rocky about the legacy of his father and how he was great because he left in all in the ring. “I think he would rather be here with you right now,” Rocky retorts, coming to a better understanding on what defines a legacy 39 years after he “left it all in the ring” for the first time.
Like Adonis in the ring, Coogler finds a way to separate Creed from its past by re-vitalizing the core moments of the series and using vibrant filmmaking to take the audience into the ring and the experience of overcoming adversity with Adonis.
This is personified in the first, official fight for Adonis, where he faces Gabriel Rosado. Coogler shoots the fight in one, continuous take — never allowing the audience to feel like they’re watching a boxing match on HBO or ESPN, but rather that they are in the ring, fighting among the participants. The camera sways and swirls with the punches and ducks, creating this visceral experience that is akin to Scorsese’s work in Raging Bull, but with a modern blend and separation that doesn’t completely mimic the 1980 film.
What makes Creed different are the undercurrents of change that the film exudes from its beginning. That is thanks and part to Coogler, but also the social change that has happened in the 39 years since the first Rocky movie. People see things differently, and the art of Creed is its deft hand at commenting and showing without preaching.
This makes the film about progress and shows not only that society can change, but individuals can begin to think differently when placed in new circumstances after years of thinking one way.
There’s something truly human in the struggle between Adonis and Rocky as they both have an idea of where Adonis should be going. But the film never forgets the past as they attempt to achieve their goal. There is something about where you come from that should be apart of who you are now, but you alone are also the thing that ultimately is standing in front of those goals.
Creed is a story about progress and the merits of legacy, and weaves these two lessons together expertly. Thanks in part to the fluid, entertaining filmmaking by Coogler, this entry into the Rocky franchise may be one of the best yet. Michael B. Jordan is an absolute star and he works off Stallone with ease. It may be too much to ask for another set of movies in the mold of Rocky for Adonis, but with Coogler and Jordan in tow, there is something more to say.