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Caution: Spoilers for Creed are in play. Read on at your own risk.
With Rocky Balboa's diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in Creed, Ryan Coogler explored the legendary character in his most vulnerable state ever. As it turns out, the inspiration for Balboa's maladies came from a very personal place: his very own father's illness.
In an interview with The Wrap, Coogler revealed that the only reason he was a fan of the original Rocky series was due to his father being a fan first. However, as his father was going through an unnamed illness that weakened him pretty badly, the Fruitvale Station director had a brilliant idea for a film he'd want to show his father. That idea was as follows:
...out of that came this idea of, what if this happened to my father’s hero? And what if there was a young guy in his life, and we were following their relationship? I was questioning masculinity. Is your manhood defined by your strength and your ability to protect all you love?
Despite his label as the "villain" of the original Rocky, Apollo Creed was a character that Ryan Coogler was always amazed by. So naturally, that younger character was written to be the illegitimate son of the late adversary to Rocky Balboa, which not only branched the series off into an interesting new direction, it also grounded the project firmly in the lore of the previous films. Whether you liked Creed or not probably depended on your level of Rocky fandom, seeing as Coogler's admiration of the franchise touches every piece of the film – right down to the final decision in Adonis Creed's ultimate bout.
Both his fandom and his real life inspiration served as positive influences towards the film Ryan Coogler wanted Creed to be. The result was certainly moving for Coogler's family, as when he was first shown the film, it was an extremely emotional experience. It's not every day that a writer/director can say they've taken on the challenge of refreshing a legendary franchise, while at the same time telling a semi-autobiographical story at the same time. It is this approach that helps separate the more independent sensibilities of a film like Creed from the blockbuster series that spawned it, and it's why the Michael B. Johnson / Sylvester Stallone starring vehicle is truly something special.
Creed could have been a simple cash-grab for an ailing studio that's already shown it would use the tactic of rebooting classics for the modern age. Without the extremely personal story at its core, Sylvester Stallone may never have even signed on to do it., and the film may never have existed But with a great big helping of heart, and a novel story to tell, Ryan Coogler showed the world that sequels can be a truly beautiful endeavor, if you go about it the right way.
Creed is currently in theaters everywhere.