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Creed ••••

Creed_posterStarring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Drama/Sports, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: November 25, 2015


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Apollo… Adonis… and … Rocky? Is this a Greek Tragedy?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Sophocles is not listed as the screenplay writer. So this must be Creed, the latest installment of the 40-year-old Rocky franchise. Let’s recap.

We meet young Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan). He’s the love child of the late heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. While he’s been raised in a wealthy home and has a nice cushy job in a securities firm, he’s always wanted to prove himself to be as good a boxer as his father. He travels to Philadelphia in search of the former great boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him to fight in the ring.

Rocky declines to train Adonis, forcing the young boxer to scrounge around for others to train him in their spare time. Adonis stays in touch with Rocky and eventually convinces him to be his trainer. Meanwhile, world boxing champion Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) from England discovers that Adonis is Apollo Creed’s son and becomes eager to fight Adonis for the championship. The remainder of the movie shows us how both Adonis and Rocky must overcome big obstacles to meet their challenges.

Scott, Creed had the potential to be a seriously bad movie. While the original Rocky movie is a classic, the sequels have left most viewers wanting. In fact, it is quite the cultural joke that the Rocky sequels would go on without end, with the quality getting ever worse. (Consider this image from Airplane 2). But Creed is a fresh story that draws upon the best of the original Rocky franchise had to offer. There are certain elements that are the same: a washed up mentor, a young earnest up-and-coming fighter, a beautiful girl, and a seemingly invincible opponent. Creed is as good as the original.

Greg, I have to admit, Creed caught me off-guard. I wasn’t expecting a movie with emotional and narrative depth to it, but that’s what Creed delivers. As with many aging superstar actors from the 1970s, Sylvester Stallone has graduated from action hero to mentor figure. Yet in this film, Rocky Balboa is far more than mere mentor. He is a heroic figure in his own right, an equal buddy hero to young Adonis Creed who aspires to become the next Rocky.

Yes, Rocky is still a fighter, but now he fights a deadly disease instead of fighting adversaries. This movie handles Rocky’s illness with great sensitivity and grace. Rocky wants no part of a cure that didn’t help his wife Adrian, and Adonis wants no part of Rocky giving up on life. As befitting a good buddy hero story, the two men help each other undergo the transformations necessary to achieve their goals. The result is a surprisingly moving story about characters we grow to care about deeply.

It’s interesting that you call this a buddy hero story, Scott. Because it has many of the elements of the buddy hero story (two characters who start out disliking each other who come together in a unified purpose). However, Rocky is clearly a mentor character to Adonis. I’m reminded of The Karate Kid. Mr. Miagi did not want to mentor young Daniel-San. It was Miagi who had the “Refusal of the Call” – refusing to mentor Daniel. Similarly, it is Rocky who initially refuses to mentor young Adonis. I’m wondering if this is a new heroic duo – the Hero/Mentor pair. That would make the mentor (in this case) equal to the hero in the story – not a secondary character.

Exactly. You’ve described this hybrid perfectly. Usually mentors occupy secondary roles but in Creed we have a mentor who is thrown into his own personal hero’s journey, receives as much screen-time as his mentee, and benefits from the assistance of the mentee. The mentor’s story and the mentee’s story are intertwined and bounce off each other in interesting and surprising ways.

Greg, I’m noticing a pattern among the supporting characters in movies about sports heroes. In both this film and in My All-American, the hero receives aid from three different sources. Each of these three helpers assists the hero in transforming in a different way. First, there is the childhood mentor who gets our hero’s life off to a good start. In Creed it is Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who rescues Adonis from foster care. She is no doubt a hero to Adonis, giving him the love and direction he so desperately needs to succeed in life.

Second, there is the current-day trainer who enables the hero to acquire the physical skills necessary to achieve his heroic goal. Rocky Balboa assumes this role in Creed. Third, the hero meets a woman who provides the love and emotional encouragement that he needs to triumph. All three of these allies are instrumental in helping the hero transform mentally, physically, and emotionally.

That’s a good observation. I think we could do a series on sports heroes and how they parallel other heroes journeys.

Creed is a surprisingly good heroic journey that just happens to be a sports movie. There is a lot to admire here. The roots of this movie reach back to the original Rocky films to launch a new hero in Adonis. We get strong performances from the two leads and a story that is emotionally satisfying. I did find the relationship between Adonis and Bianca a bit forced. It wasn’t necessary for the story – not nearly so much as Adrian was to Rocky. I give Creed 4 out of 5 Reels.

I’m perplexed as to whether this is a buddy hero story or if Adonis is the hero supported by Rocky as mentor. If it is a hybrid, as you call it, then I’d have to rate the duo rather than Adonis alone as hero. Certainly Adonis overcomes his missing inner quality of feeling like Apollo Creed’s mistake. He comes into his own by the end of the movie. And Rocky successfully passes the torch to the younger generation. And there’s the added benefit that Rocky has honored Apollo’s memory by training his son. I give the pair 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting players were less impressive than the leads. There were an assortment of boxers for Adonis to spar with. They were not very interesting. The villain was not as clearly defined as in other films. There were two boxers Adonis had to beat to overcome his feelings of inadequacy. But they weren’t really villains – just obstacles. The villain here, more than anything, was Adonis’s own inner turmoil. The girlfriend Bianca was a typical romantic interest. Adonis’s mother isn’t in it much. Overall, it was a pretty bland backdrop of supporting characters that I can only give 3 out of 5 Cast points to.

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Creed also surprised me by giving us an intelligent story about two men whose lives intersect and who both benefit greatly from the intersection. Adonis Creed is looking to establish his identity and needs Rocky Balboa to achieve this goal. Rocky himself is a man teetering on the edge of geezerdom and needs Adonis to give him purpose and a reason to fight a deadly illness. This story had no business captivating me and moving me to tears, but it did exactly that. I’m happy to award Creed 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero story follows the classic buddy-hero pattern but also has obvious elements of the hero-mentor pattern as well. I view it as a hero-mentor story on steroids. Our two protagonists transform in meaningful ways and they rely on each other to acquire personal qualities necessary for these transformations. The dual hero’s journeys here take some surprising turns and are both satisfying and robust. I have to award our duo 5 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters are effective but also a bit uneven in this film. Ricky Conlan provides just the right amount of menace in and out of the boxing ring. But none of the remaining secondary characters stand out in any memorable way. Perhaps this is because Creed is first and foremost a story that zeroes in on the interdependent lives of two men, Adonis and Rocky. I give the supporting characters 3 rating points out of 5.

 Movie: reel-4 Cast: cast-3Heroes: h-logo-5

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