Creed, by Albert W. Vogt III

Now that we have gotten the entire Rocky franchise out of the way, it is time to address the next cinematic prodigy of pugilism.  It starts (again) with Creed (2015).  In case you are not an idiot like myself and have not recently rewatched the entire previous series, the name in the title refers to Robert “Rocky” Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) former rival turned friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  There is a twist, however, because another aspect from before that you may not remember is that Apollo died.  Before he shuffled, or, more accurately, got punched, off this mortal coil, he apparently sowed his wild oats.  Do people still say “sowing wild oats?”  Anyway, the result is Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), and he will take the last name that makes the title.

Long before Adonis becomes Creed, he is an adolescent Donnie Johnson (Alex Henderson).  Remember what I said about “wild oats?”  Well, young Donnie is as wild as they come, and the result is him being in a juvenile detention center.  He also fights anyone that crosses him.  What saves him from heading into a life of incarceration is Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad).  Though she is not Adonis’ biological mother, she agrees to take in the boy despite him being the product of her late husband’s infidelity.  Doing so gives Adonis the ability to grow up with the kinds of opportunities he would not have had otherwise.  The man Adonis longs to be a boxer, but on his own terms, which is why he goes by Donnie “Hollywood” Johnson.  He begins fighting in Mexico on the weekends to hide it from Mary Anne, while during the week he works at a brokerage firm in Los Angeles.  Mary Anne does not want Donnie to have a career like her husband, but he quits his job in order to do so anyway.  The problem is that nobody in Los Angeles will train him because they know who his father is, and this includes the gym at which Apollo got his start.  Donnie’s solution is to travel to the other side of the country and seek out Apollo’s old friend Rocky.  Donnie finds the “Italian Stallion” at his restaurant, named after his late wife Adrian (Talia Shire), and it does not take Rocky long to figure out the young man is Apollo’s son.  Unfortunately for Donnie, Rocky does not want to train his late friend’s son.  Donnie does not take no for an answer.  He settles into a routine at the gym named after Rocky’s former manager, but every chance Donnie gets he is needling Rocky for pointers.  In between his work outs, Donnie finds time to begin dating his downstairs neighbor and aspiring musician, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).  They do not stay neighbors for long because eventually Donnie wears down Rocky and the man he refers to as “Unc” (short for uncle) agrees to have his new protégé move into his home.  This is all part of the experience of training with Rocky, I suppose.  And train they do, though this would not be one of these movies without at least one of these sequences.  It leads to Donnie getting his first fight, which is against the kid of a trainer that works at the gym where Rocky trained during his career.  Donnie wins the bout, but this is when the problems begin.  The first thing that happens is that his identity as Apollo’s son gets leaked to the press.  While Donnie had been trying to keep it hush because he did not want others thinking that he made it because of his father, Bianca reminds him that it is his name, too.  The next issue is with Rocky.  Because of Donnie’s newfound fame, the current light heavyweight champion of the world, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), has offered Donnie a shot at his title.  Ricky is doing this because he is about to go to jail and wants one last fight to cement his legacy.  While training for this fight, Rocky suddenly collapses and Donnie takes him to the hospital.  It turns out that Rocky has cancer, but he tries to keep this a secret from Donnie.  Donnie finds out anyway, and feels betrayed when Rocky says he will not be seeking treatment.  The Italian Stallion feels he has had a good enough life.  All Donnie can see is abandonment, and he carries his anger over into attending Bianca’s first big show.  When another performer calls Donnie “Baby Creed,” the boxer takes exception and starts a fight against Bianca’s wishes.  Donnie’s attempts to apologize to her go unheeded, but he is able to makes amends with Rocky by issuing an ultimatum: Donnie will continue training if Rocky gets treatment for cancer.  This brings the Italian Stallion to the doctor’s office, and his pupil continues his preparations while the teacher receives chemotherapy.  With an apparent (they never say whether Rocky has beaten cancer) new lease on life, they travel to England for the fight against Conlan.  The fight goes the distance, with Donnie going the full twelve rounds despite having one eye swollen shut from the blows.  It is a result that nobody expected, and though he loses in a split decision, it is the kind of moral victory that typifies events in these movies.  We wrap up with Donnie and Rocky back in Philadelphia, with the former helping the latter up the steps in front of the museum he made famous, cinematically and in real life.

The unfortunate aspect about Creed is that Faith is not an aspect of the title character’s life, unlike his predecessor. Because Catholicism is a part of not only Rocky’s identity, but that of the neighborhood in which he lives, it made it easier to give a Catholic perspective.  This one takes a little digging.  Indeed, we are going to analyze one word of dialog, though it is an important one.  Donnie explains to Bianca the reason why he behaved so poorly before her important concert, and for the first time mentions Rocky’s condition to her.  Her response is “Jesus.”  It is uttered blasphemously, and the tragic thing about it is that we have ceased to treat such offenses as the sin that they are.  When something serious happens, the name of Our Lord and Savior rolls off the tongue of many matter-of-factly.  That is sort of the definition of blasphemy.  I have to wonder, though.  There is sincerity in Bianca’s voice, and clearly it is motivated by the love and sympathy she has for Adonis.  If she did not feel this way, then why would she have said the Word?  The Bible and our Faith tradition is replete with examples of the incredible power behind that one word and the effect it can have.  It can be uttered as a form of sympathy that, if we are being generous, is probably what Bianca meant.  However, if she, like so many others, sadly, does not believe in God, why have her say the Word?  To be clear, I do not think people should say Jesus idly.  Bianca saying it in this scene is blasphemy.  At the same time, Jesus is a product of God’s love, and I like to hope some sliver of that came through with Bianca.

Well, Creed, at the moment, represents the second to last of these movies.  It bears repeating that, no matter my personal hang-ups, these are still eminently more watchable than many other films going these days.  This is about as close to a recommendation is I am likely to get with them.


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