Creed came out in plenty of time for Dad to see it, and since he was a big fan of the Rocky pictures I think he probably did. He may have even recommended it to me; I don’t remember. Sometime after he died, I thought I should start making a point to watch movies I know he liked, or would like, and I put Creed at the top of my Netflix queue. When the disc arrived, I left it sitting on my coffee table for months, as I am wont to do. (Never, ever lend me a book, DVD, or other piece of media that you want to get back within a year or three.)
I finally sat down to it a few nights ago, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a great example of a film that works completely within convention, but tweaks those conventions just enough to have something to say. Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan, is the son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed. After chucking a career in finance to pursue his own boxing glory, he travels to Philadelphia to persuade Rocky Balboa, his father’s one-time nemesis turned bestie, to train him. From there, we hit basically all the major plot points and iconic moments of the first, brilliant Rocky film. There’s the tough-as-nails trainer, played by Sly Stallone in full ham. There’s a budding relationship with a remarkable woman that keeps Adonis going when things get shitty. There are multiple training montages. There’s the triumphant, chest-beating, top-of-the-steps moment set to the soaring Rocky theme. There’s the climactic fight against a champion our protagonist has very little hope of beating, and ultimately doesn’t beat. And there’s the same thrilling sense of personal victory despite the loss.
In hitting all the same plot points as a beloved original, Creed can be compared to the new Star Wars reboot — and I’d argue it’s much, much better. Unlike Star Wars’s nostalgic rehash, Creed’s actually serves an artistic purpose. This reboot of a classic white male franchise is in the hands of a black screenwriter and director and a female cinematographer. As a result we have fleshed-out black characters, not token Hollywood clichés, who are protagonists and not merely supporting players. We have a love interest who has her own talents, passions, dreams, and obstacles, and who challenges our male protagonist. On-screen we have the mantle of one boxing generation being handed to the next. Off-screen we have a new generation of artists and entertainers stepping into the ring, ready to tell us new stories, or classic stories from new perspectives. Honestly, in terms of cultural relevance it’s a bit shocking to me that this movie wasn’t a bigger deal when it came out.
I am admittedly predisposed to liking a good boxing movie, or any movie with great fight choreography. I really enjoy watching live boxing, too, a fact that often surprises people who know me. (Yes, it’s a brutal sport that causes long-term harm to people who compete in it, and no, I have not reconciled my appreciation of it with my general disapproval of violence and exploitation.) I’m not an active fan — I couldn’t tell you who the major boxers even are right now — but if you put a good fight on, I will enjoy it. It goes back to watching fights with my dad and my grandfather when I was younger. Dad used to tape fights off HBO, and when we visited my grandparents the three of us would sit downstairs in my grandfather’s man cave and watch them while my mother and grandmother chatted upstairs. I wasn’t a particularly tomboyish kid, but I was somewhat sporty, and I loved doing something with my Dad and Gramps that didn’t interest the other women in the family. I felt like I was part of their club. I loved listening to the commentators with their amazing voices, and betting my grandfather a dollar on the outcome. I loved seeing Dad and Gramps’s respect and enthusiasm for the athletes. Looking back now, I realize I also loved just watching them do something they loved together. I loved having a window into the bond they had.
Dad and Gramps were not a highly verbal pair. Dad was and Gramps still is hard of hearing, and neither of them was the type to spend a lot of time chatting about life or politics or even what was going on in the family. Their relationship consisted of doing things together: building houses, tinkering on cars, watching sports. Gramps boxed when he was younger, and he taught Dad. When I was a kid, one of my favorite family stories was about the time Gramps told Dad to stop pulling his punches; Dad ended up cracking one of Gramps’s ribs and felt terrible about it for years. I don’t know what their relationship was like when Dad was growing up, but as I witnessed it, my father always had the utmost respect and admiration for my grandfather. And my grandfather always had a real tenderness for my dad. He rooted my dad on in life the way we all root for the underdog in a movie like Rocky or Creed.
There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered if Dad ever wished I had been a son, someone he could pass the things he loved along to, the way Gramps passed them to him. But I realize he tried to do exactly that, and it never particularly mattered to him that I was a girl. In some ways it did, I suppose — I’m certain he never seriously considered teaching me to box because of my sex, and I never even thought of it as a possibility. But we spent hours watching boxing, and at many other pastimes stereotypically attributed to fathers and sons: catch, Nintendo, home improvement tasks. And of course, watching movies. That’s one love my father passed down that stuck.