Sylvester Stallone took the stage at CinemaCon and told the audience one important fact about Creed: “This isn’t Rocky 7.”
And it isn’t - Rocky is a side character in this film. But Ryan Coogler’s movie looks to very much be in the spirit of the original Rocky - a gritty, human-level character study. But instead of a story about a goon/boxer who gets a one in a million chance, Creed is about a guy who is born into privilege who wants to fight and earn what he has.
Coogler said that the story is very personal for him, and it grew out of his own relationship with his dad. In the footage screened at CinemaCon Apollo Creed appears only in photos; his son, Adonis, has never met the man. But he’s a born fighter, and even when he’s in a tie and button down shirt (in what looks like the supply closet of some office), he’s shadowboxing.
The footage begins with Adonis in a small white room, what looks like a basement. He’s punching at the wall. On the soundtrack comes a chant from outside: “Creed! Creed! Creed!”
The spectre of his dad and the fighter in his blood lead Adonis to seek out training. It seems like Wood Harris, who owns a ghetto gym, won’t train the prodigy, explaining that Adonis can’t fight alongside these men, who had to fight for everything they had their whole lives. More than that, the trainer says, boxers die in the ring. Apollo died in the ring. So Adonis turns to Rocky Balboa, meeting him after hours in Adrian’s, and convinces the old boxer to give his best friend’s son a chance.
Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis seems to alternately have a chip on his shoulder and much to prove. The footage shows him running down the famous Philadelphia streets where Rocky ran; one shot has him being trailed not by a group of kids but by bikers. He’s also in clubs, eyeing hot women, making out on the couch. This isn’t Rocky Balboa - he seems to have his father’s flair in many ways.
What stood out in the short bit of Creed we saw was the gritty street-level aspect of it. While Adonis’ story grows out of the most cartoonish Rocky movie, his tale begins on the same streets where Balboa’s did. There are enough nods to make this look like it’s in line with the original film, but it stands on its own - a new boxer, a new culture, a new world. Most telling: none of Rocky’s famous music played during the footage.
But Rocky is Rocky! At one point he tells the persistent Adonis that the kid is like woodpecker, doing it in a typical Rocky aw-shucks way. Just seeing him on screen - having Stallone slip into that slight slur - is heartening. Less heartening: shots of Adonis doing push ups in front of what appears to be Rocky slumped in a chair, a chemotherapy IV looped into his arm.
Creed is one of my most anticipated movies of 2015, and this footage only reinforced the idea that the Rocky saga could become a great and smart multi-generational story.