The Rocky And Creed Films Explained
The boxing saga is still going the distance.
“Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either.
'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance.
Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.” -- Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Rocky, 1976.
Winning the fight never mattered in Rocky. That’s why we’re drawn back to the long-running boxing film series despite the inkling we know how each one is going to end, and it’s still going. Creed II hits cinemas in Australia today, technically the eighth film in the Rocky series with Stallone returning to his iconic role as the Italian Stallion.
But how can this new film be both a sequel and a Rocky movie at the same time?
If it has been a long time between the rounds with this film series, we’ve got you covered. Cue training montage!
What has Rocky been up to?
Since Rocky, we steadily got sequels featuring the knockabout boxer from 1979 (Rocky II) until 2006 (Rocky Balboa). The demand for sequels was fuelled by Rocky winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and its success at the box office for a low-budget film most studios thought would fail; especially with Stallone in the lead role (they wanted Robert Redford). Also, consider the Rocky franchise the flame that kept Stallone’s career alive when he makes films like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
In ’06, Rocky Balboa was set up as Stallone’s farewell to character who launched his career. The plot centres on Rocky coming out of retirement for an exhibition fight with a world champion after a computer simulation predicts he would win a fight in a ‘what if’ scenario. The overall theme of the film is that Rocky can … still go to distance.
The sense of déjà vu here is unrelenting but like all of the films in this franchise, Rocky Balboa succeeds outside the ring with Rocky dealing with life as a widower who has a tense relationship with his son (Milo Ventimiglia) and must deal with a regretful, elderly Paulie (Burt Young).
The whole film is a grand farewell with the spirit of the Rocky sequels. We’d never see Rocky Balboa again until the filmmaker, Ryan Coogler, pitched a sequel with a new boxer in mind.
Meet Adonis Creed
Ryan Coogler grew up watching the Rocky movies with his dad. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, he said,
“Rocky was my dad's hero. We watched all those movies together for as long as I can remember.”
In 2013, Coogler made Fruitvale Station and it swept the major prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. After a Sundance breakout, Coogler was then looking to break into Hollywood and he had an idea for a Rocky movie.
“I came up with the idea when my dad was diagnosed with a neuromuscular condition. The doctors said he was dying. His skeletal muscles were atrophying and ALS was one of the bigger things they were kicking around,” Coogler said.
“So I thought, maybe I come up with this story, maybe it's something I'll write and he reads it and gets motivated to fight.”
Coogler’s script featured Rocky Balboa, but this time the gloves are off and he’s in the corner as the trainer to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordon). Yep, the last name matters because Adonis is the son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky’s former opponent and mentor who dies in Rocky IV.
Coogler got a meeting with Stallone and explained the idea: “… I think he thought I was crazy. He didn't know who I was. Fruitvale hadn't come out. I mean, the whole thing was this close to fan fiction. I took a picture with him so I could give it to my dad and he signed a bunch of T-shirts for my dad. If it had ended there, that would have been fine. It was already a dream come true, just telling Sly that story.” Luckily, Stallone loved the idea and saw it as the natural next step in Rocky’s story, and soon, Creed became a reality.
In Creed, Adonis is an angry amateur boxer with a natural talent who tracks down Rocky in hopes he can help him understand the father he never knew, and in turn, himself.
Creed retains the essence of a Rocky movie while forging ahead with a story that carves out a unique space in the well-worn series. It’s a fantastic passing of the gloves and not a nostalgic cash-grab sequel.
Rocky and Adonis fight private wars on different fronts but come together as a team in a spectacular way. Creed accounts for every emotional beat that has come before so it fits in beautifully with the series as a Rocky film while introducing Adonis and the new dynamic. Coogler reinvigorates all the Rocky moments so they feel fresh: the training montages, the score and a stunning one-take boxing sequence. You walk away from Creed wanting five more films in this series.
A Creed to live by
Creed was a hit by earning more than $100 million at the US box office (off a $35 million budget) and critics shouted about it with a 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It announced Coogler as a major new talent, and he eventually passed on directing the sequel because he left the ring to make Black Panther for Marvel. The biggest surprise came when Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the film’s lone nomination.
Creed deserved nominations across the board so Stallone’s presence in the awards race was a reminder of the film as one of the year’s best and the huge oversight by the Academy.
So here we are: Creed II.
The story picks up right after the events of the first film but Adonis faces a new opponent with a familiar last name: Drago. The man who killed Adonis’ father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren returns), baits Adonis with a challenge to fight his son (Florian Munteanu). The Dragos want revenge for the fallout of Rocky IV and Adonis wants justice for his father. Rocky thinks the fight is a bad idea because he still regrets not stopping the fight that killed Apollo.
Creed II is a little low on puff but its portrayal of the different sides of masculinity, identity and legacy are great. Plus, if you're in the pocket for these films the trademark moments are still sublime. There’s a moment in every Rocky/Creed film where you begin to doubt the outcome despite seven films that say otherwise.
I got it during Creed II, which means these films are still as effective as ever. It’s that feeling of the rising odds and the faith in Rocky and Adonis to endure and overcome that keeps us coming back for more. Rocky did it (twice), now it’s time for Creed to go the distance.
Creed II is released in Australian cinemas Thursday 29 November.