Creed II and Rocky IV

As a franchise, Rocky has almost always been defined by the hubris of its star and creator, Sylvester Stallone. The original film is not actually so much about boxing as it is about the boxer, a working class guy who has only one skill in the ring and desperately wants to achieve more for himself, and what Stallone gradually lost sight of in writing and directing the sequels is that it was that character struggle that made his film resonate with people. As reflected in the franchise’s gradual decent into farce, Stallone felt the key to keeping Rocky Balboa a relevant pop culture icon was to make the fights bigger and the characters in perpetual awe of Rocky’s greatness, and the films suffered for it, finally attempting to pull out of the dive with the attempted drama of Rocky V and only finally approaching the heights of the original after a sixteen year hiatus with Rocky Balboa, though even that retained some sillier elements that harken back to Stallone’s worst impulses.

This is why Creed felt like such a revelation upon its 2015 release. The decision to make Rocky the supporting character for the son of his greatest rival, Apollo Creed, was an inspired bit of torch-passing, allowing Stallone to remain in the spotlight as a new name took on the legacy of the Rocky series. And that’s what Creed is largely about, as Adonis Creed struggles with the legacy and identity left behind by a father he never knew, and while the boxing matches are among the best of the whole series, Creed feels most like a rebirth of the parts of Rocky that struck people so strongly that a franchise was able to form in the first place.

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