The past does not quite stay in the past. Efforts can be made to ignore or forget painful memories and adverse moments associated with it. However, these experiences form the fabric of individuality. Furthermore, how is a legacy established without a full understanding and acceptance of the past? The Creed franchise began in 2015. It serves as both a sequel and spin-off of the legendary boxing franchise Rocky.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has retired from boxing. This time around, there will be no comebacks as was the case in the less-than-stellar 2006 movie Rocky Balboa. Instead, Rocky is brought back to the fighting world by Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of Rocky’s late nemesis and later friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Adonis has had a difficult life where he literally and metaphorically fights to survive and looks for Rocky’s mentorship to help him succeed in his pugilist ambitions.
The theme of the past bridges together the Creed franchise. In Creed, both Adonis and Rocky must face present challenges that originated some time ago. Rocky is being asked to train the son of a friend whose death he feels partly responsible for. Adonis fights to come to terms with the legacy his last name carries. A name that belonged to a man he never knew. A name he actively decides not to use at first.
The past lures its head once again in Creed II. This time, former foe Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) returns looking to set up a bout between his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) and Adonis. The elder Drago killed Apollo Creed during a boxing match that went on for too long. Adonis is eager to accept the challenge, seeing it as a way to avenge his father. Rocky, however, is still consumed by the guilt of Apollo’s death and is reluctant to train his protege. In this movie, the Creed franchise shifts towards focusing on Adonis’s legacy and begins to say farewell to Rocky Balboa. Rocky’s final bouts concern him coming to terms with Apollo’s death, his failing health, and reconciling with his son.
The relationship between fathers and their children is also heavily explored throughout the Creed franchise. Creed II offers three different father/son dynamics: Rocky and his estranged son, Adonis and the deceased father he never knew, and the abusive relationship between Ivan and Viktor. Each of these profoundly affects future decisions each of these characters make. Decisions that in turn compose the fabric of their persona. By the end of Creed II, Adonis has made peace with his father and entered fatherhood.
Adonis is living a life of luxury in Creed III. Having retired from boxing, he maintains himself active as a successful businessman and promoter. His livelihood is threatened, however, when his childhood friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) attempts to reconnect. Damian was an amateur boxer who longed for the career and life Adonis would instead enjoy. Both came up under similar hardships, but their paths would drastically diverge: Adonis would become a sports superstar while Damian would end up incarcerated.
Damian looks to prove himself in the boxing world by fighting Adonis in the ring. If Adonis decides not to take on the challenge, Damian will stop at nothing to destroy his life. Adonis is stricken with survivor’s remorse. He wants to protect his family and sees fighting as the only solution to remediate both. This time around, Rocky will not be in his corner, but he realizes he does not need to face this part of his past by himself.
Back in 2015, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan were established wunderkinds. Neither had yet reached the age of 30 and had already collaborated (as director and main character, respectively) on the critically praised Fruitvale Station. Taking on a franchise as popular as Rocky takes on a special sort of bravura, but both artists were more than up to the task. Coogler set expectations high with his directorial debut and does not disappoint with Creed I and II. He is confident in every shot yet not arrogant. His screenplay, co-written by Aaron Covington, masterfully pays homage to the Rocky movies while patiently paving the road for Adonis Creed. Michael B. Jordan takes on directorial duties for Creed III. The first-time director demonstrates a fair amount of panache on his way to directing the most stylish Creed of the franchise.
The cast assembled is also extraordinary in their roles. Sylvester Stallone does an admirable job evolving the Rocky character. The ambitious and somewhat reckless Rocky is no more. He is now older and wiser, more measured in his approach, and more reflective as he enters a new stage in his life. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis similarly, evolving through different stages of his life, evolving from a brash youngster to a caring father. Tessa Thompson plays Bianca, Adonis’s partner. Amid all the machismo, she uses temperament, love, and logic to ensure her family maintains strength during challenging times. Jonathan Majors is a force of nature in the third installment, bringing both a physical and mental challenge that Adonis has never faced. Phylicia Rashad and Wood Harris are also present throughout the trilogy, bringing heart and comedic relief during their turns.
One would also be remiss not to mention the boxing shots in a movie about boxers: the hits are palpable. Viewers are tossed in the ring and experience every connecting punch up close. Fast-paced jabs and swings are suddenly brought to a halt in slow motion just before a hit lands. Accompanying loud thuds and cracking sounds give a sense of the sport’s brutality. Every Creed movie also includes a training montage that allows audiences to appreciate the incredible physical shape the actors playing boxers committed to. Heroic music hinting at the iconic Rocky theme edited into the scenes inspires the most sedentary of people to at least attempt to run with a tractor tire tied to the waste or punch a tree bare-handed.
The Creed trilogy does an excellent job of giving a proper farewell to Rocky, establishing the Creed legacy, and leaving the door open for new legacies to be formed. It is by not just facing the past but by accepting it that these characters evolve throughout. They learn that the past cannot and should not be ignored. Instead, it is something that one carries with them and that should be packaged neatly with all other experiences. In doing so, legacies are formed, and if nothing else, may serve as inspirations for future generations.