Steve Sailer gives a good review of Creed tying it into earlier iterations of the Rocky saga, but I think the politics of the film are both worth talking about in of themselves and more well-integrated into the core drama than other recent movies.
The hero in Creed basically has three main obstacles he must overcome:
a) He must stop beating up black guys outside the ring and start beating up white guys inside the ring.
b) He must become part of an authentically black community, in an authentically black city (Philly), by winning the love of an authentically Philly woman.
c) He must make peace with his father, Apollo Creed, and his legacy.
Hey– an alienated son of privilege must make peace with his father’s ghost and become a leader of his race by joining the community of a large black-dominated American city and winning the love of one of that city’s native daughters: I think I’ve read that book before.
Michael Jordan, the actor playing the title role, played Wallace in “The Wire,” the prototypical callow black youth caught in forces beyond his control. And in contrast to Carl Weathers, who really looked like he could have been a champion in the original Rocky, Jordan comes across as pretty callow here. But it works. In almost every scene, Adonis Creed seems less grounded than any of the other, usually older actors around him, but in a way this suits his role as an all-purpose vehicle for hopes (his own and others’) rather than a person with an intense inner life. Like Obama in Chicago, Adonis Creed is ready to let Philadelphia make him the native son it wants him to be. My favorite scenes– as someone who has fond memories of living there— are when his new girlfriend teaches him the uses of the all-purpose Philly-specific slang word “jawn,” a noun that can mean anything, and when his Rocky-echoing run through the streets of North Philly is joined by kids on dirt bikes instead of on foot. Adonis’s lowest moment is a brawl with one of his girlfriend’s musical collaborators backstage at the classic Philly venue The Electric Factory; not accidentally, the guy he beats up sports a classic black Philly beard.
This fight is precipitated by Adonis arguing with Stallone’s character (Rocky Balboa!) over his refusal to accept cancer treatment. Stallone’s performance deserves its acclaim, and he makes every scene feel deeply felt and real, even in its nods to the Rocky myth itself (like when he takes Adonis to the top of the Philadelphia Museum Steps, or in the various ways the film takes seriously what it would be like if Rocky Balboa were a real, very famous person.) But he isn’t primarily the actualizer of Adonis’s dreams that the Miyagi or Obiwan role would suggest. The training montages are there, and well done, but in almost every scene it is Creed who is reaching out to and assisting Balboa rather than the other way around. Rocky Balboa is sick, alone, and estranged from his own son, and only Adonis Creed can help him get better. Old white America is sick, and only young black America can help it get better. (In exchange, the good parts of white America will help young black America rise to its rightful place as champion.)
The original Rocky was also about race, of course, though in a more complicated way than is often attributed to it. Ryan Coogler, the young director who made Creed, had his breakout with Fruitvale Station, an explicitly political film about an Oakland man killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police in 2009. Creed,though wrapped in the flashy boxing robe of the big-ticket Rocky franchise, feels like an elegiac repurposing of the myth of Obama himself for the era of Black Lives Matters and the closing year of his presidency.
It’s still a very good movie.