Creed is just as great as you’ve heard. A soulful expression of pride, belief and family. It chronicles the rise of young Adonis “Donny” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), illegitimate son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, as he quits his white collar job to seek out his father’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to train him as he seeks to both create his own identity and embrace his heritage, “one step, one punch, one round at a time”.
Every mythical figure and journey needs a suitably emotional and epic score, and the film does not disappoint in this regard either – it’s one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, marrying brilliantly with director Ryan Coogler and his DoP Maryse Alberti’s images, both kinetic and quieter, character beats, sometimes subtly echoing Bill Conti’s original work for Rocky.
Coogler gave a great, in depth interview with Kristopher Tapley at Variety. Towards the end, he elaborates on the score, and music composed for Donny’s neighbour and musician girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) by long-time friend and collaborator from USC, Ludwig Göransson:
“Just from the gate, music is a big part of “Rocky.” It’s a massive part of “Rocky.” It’s arguably the most famous film music in pop culture. Definitely the most used, I would say, and the one that carries the most emotional baggage…And Philadelphia is a city that’s known for its sports and it’s known for its music. So those two things are always there. It was something that always had to be dealt with from a filmmaker’s standpoint, but from a story standpoint as well. So that’s how Bianca’s character evolved into this musician, and a musician who makes her own music. She produces her own stuff. She leads the band, and that’s very much a part of the now, how music is made now with technology. It’s DIY, you know? And our composer produced Bianca’s songs. He and Tessa made all those songs. Our composer is Ludwig Göransson, who I went to film school with. We met at USC. He’s done all the music for every short film I’ve ever done…And how he approached this was, at first we were saying — Ludwig gets my scripts [early]. As soon as MGM got it, as soon as Sly got it, he got it, so he could start working on music for the characters and themes. And because we started working early, it was able to evolve into what we have now. At first we thought it would be very different from what the “Rocky” films were. Because usually when we work together, it’s very minimalist. So he wrote an initial score that was pretty minimalist, a theme for Adonis that was kind of minimalist and downbeat. And when we put it with the movie, it didn’t work. But eventually we just embraced the mythology and the DNA of the old. The more we did that, the better the score got. The scene where Adonis’ theme first took life was when Adonis was shadow boxing (Adonis screens his father’s fights against Rocky from You Tube on a projector).
“The whole movie, probably, is in that shot more so than in the oner. That was a shot that birthed the score. We realized that Adonis is kind of this mythological character, and he doesn’t really know it yet. Nobody knows it yet. But when he’s in that room and he’s able to close the door and kind of just do something when nobody else is watching, you see how much he loves it. You see how much it bothers him that his dad isn’t around. And when we did the take, at first he was going to shadow Apollo, but then it was, like, “No, he should fight against him. He should fight against this phantom.” And Ludwig nailed the theme, and it grows and grows. And right as it starts, it goes away. He realized, he said, “That’s it.” Once we embraced that, it got really exciting. We were able to record with a full orchestra at Warner Bros. It was awesome.”
The below track plays over a fantastic moment in the film, Donny’s “Philadelphia Museum steps” moment, as local kids on scramblers tail him running through the streets, circling him like a ring as he punches through to finish in tribute below a grinning Rocky looking out the window of the gym. It’s a medley of all the themes in the film up to that point.
As Coogler said, Ludwig’s early, minimalist take was thrown out to “embrace the mythology.” The composer told Awards Circuit:
“I wanted to create something really cinematic and melodic, and have it a throwback…a big classical orchestra with jazz elements. But also I infused that with the modern, edgy, electronic, and urban sound under it, where you can hear this pumping bass, this energetic base that goes along with this melodic theme.”
“He (Adonis) starts out not knowing who he is. Sometimes the patine goes from me humming it through a vocoder, then to a guitar. Then when I use that patina in the final montage, where Creed’s running with the motorbikes, the score comes from a 100-piece, full-blown orchestra.”
In the final fight sequence, the composer lets rip with Bill Conti’s iconic theme at a key moment – “Ryan and I agreed that I should go back, make the final cue big and brash, bring it back to the Major Key it was originally in and basically give the audience what they want.”