As an offshoot of the famous Rocky franchise, it would be easy to dismiss Creed as just another Hollywood-manufactured sports movie, but really, it's a highly personal film from writer-director Ryan Coogler. As he recounted to Deadline, the filmmaker was first introduced to the Rocky films as a kid by his father, who would encourage him to watch Rocky before football games to get pumped up. When Coogler's father fell ill while Coogler was finishing up film school, the director began thinking about questions of masculinity, specifically as it relates to the bond between a father and a son. The result is not only a fantastic boxing movie that honors the Rocky films Coogler and his father watched together, but also one that examines the true bonds of family, no matter how traditional or untraditional they might be. Creed might look like a boxing movie, but it's truly a movie that celebrates family, in all of its unique forms.
If you've seen the Creed trailer, the film's emphasis on untraditional bonds shouldn't be surprising. The main premise for the film is that its main character is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson — later Adonis Creed. One of Adonis' main conflicts as he enters the world of professional boxing is whether or not he wants to take his father's name. As Coogler told Time , a big part of the Creed story was the question of "heritage and inheritance." Born to a single mother who died when he was young, Adonis did not grow up a Creed — at least not until he was almost a teenager when Apollo's wife, Mary Anne, took him in as her son. When Adonis first goes to Philly and meets Rocky, he does not introduce himself as a Creed. He admits that he's Apollo's son (albeit with some hesitation), but makes clear that he doesn't have the Creed name, nor does he want to wear it in the ring. It's only later that he becomes comfortable with calling himself a Creed, and a great part of his journey is learning to accept the name as his own.
The Creed name is also indicative of the importance the film places on the relationship between a father and son. In the beginning of the film, when Mary Anne meets a young Adonis in a juvenile detention center and introduces herself, she asks him what he knows about his father. Adonis replies that he has none, rejecting the idea that his biological father is in any way a part of him. As the film continues, however, Adonis embarks along a path to take the Creed name and embrace his father's legacy, taking ownership of the traits he inherited, like his talent in the boxing ring.
Yet despite the fact that the Creed name is passed down through blood — or, more specifically, paternity — Creed does not only value a family structure dictated by biology. In fact, the only family bonds depicted onscreen in Creed are ones forged outside of blood. After the first meeting between Mary Anne and Adonis, the film cuts ahead to present times, where a grownup Adonis is boxing on the weekends while working a 9-5 job, living with his now-adoptive mother. Somehow the two have gone from Adonis declaring he has no connection to Creed, and thus Mary Anne, to him calling her "Ma" and eating dinner at her kitchen table.
The decision to have Adonis refer to Mary Anne as his mother in the film is significant. Not only does it signify a major shift in how Adonis sees himself in the world, it also acts as a subtle reminder to viewers that not all families are alike. The specificities of the mother-son relationship between Mary Anne and Adonis is never explained, and it doesn't need to be. The familial bond simply exists, and the refusal to show how it was developed is a message to the audience that it is not our job to inspect the family relationships of others.
Creed continues to break tradition through the relationship between Rocky and Adonis. After their first meeting, Adonis begins to call Rocky "Unc" or "Uncle," much to Rocky's surprise. In one funny scene about halfway through the film, Adonis introduces Rocky to his girlfriend, Bianca, as his uncle, to which she responds with deadpan delivery, "He's white." It is the only comments made about Rocky and Adonis' physical differences throughout the film, and is mostly said as a joke. Although in 2015, mixed-raced families have yet to be as incorporated into big-screen images of "traditional families" as they should be, in Creed, it's simply an organic detail of modern life.
Creed is a unique film about family because it doesn't value one kind of bond over another. The family one gains through blood is important to Adonis, as is the Creed name, but the family he creates for himself is equally celebrated, if not more so. Most importantly, none of the avenues Adonis takes to gather his family are presented as anything other than natural and normal. Creed's familial theme sends a clear message: it's time more non-traditional families were normalized and celebrated onscreen without being exploited.
Images: Warner Bros.; Giphy (3)