Stallone’s Movie ‘Creed’ Is A KO!
In the new Rocky movie “Creed,” that’s what Rocky Balboa says while standing on the Art Museum Steps — the famous Rocky Steps — as he overlooks Philadelphia.
It’s a crowning moment in what will be considered a crowning achievement for the Rocky franchise; “Creed” is the best Rocky movie to come out since the original “Rocky” in the late 70s. That’s saying a lot. “Creed” will be the seventh Rocky movie, if you can believe it. As one reviewer noted, some people can see their whole lives from the vantage point of the Rocky franchise. These films have been around for 40 years.
I’m not alone in saying “Creed” is the second best movie in the franchise. It’s getting Oscar buzz for Stallone’s performance, and it has an impressive 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far. It’s good because its filmmakers — namely Stallone — modeled what the film itself teaches: interdependence is better than independence. (More on that in the worldview section.) There is a greater reliance on others in the screenwriting, and besides the clutch performances from the actors and director, that’s what “Creed” boils down to; it’s just superb writing through and through, from beginning to end.
We’ll talk a little about some of the worldview behind the film in the “Worldviews” section, but first let’s cover the Parental Guidance Content…
[Note: after you read my review for “Creed” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 Rated rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: One sex scene that uses camera placement to avoid nudity.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: Um, boxing. Lots of realistic, pummeling boxing. A couple punches thrown outside of the ring as well.
Language: A few f-words, a fair amount of all other variety of swear words. One use of Jesus’ name. I was surprised that there were two (or maybe three) f-words. I had thought that PG-13 movies were only limited to one f-word, but I’m apparently wrong about that (or they recently changed the criteria).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Occasional use of alcohol in social settings.
Why Care About a Film’s Worldview?
Before I get into my usual “Worldviews” section and explain how “Creed” presents a subtle rebuke to the “follow your heart” mantra, I’d like to explain something about why I include a “worldviews” section at all: whether we realize it or not, the things that so profoundly affect us in movies often come straight from the worldview that lies behind the movie. And no one has articulated this so well as screenwriter and author Brian Godawa in his book Hollywood Worldviews:
Great movies are like incarnate sermons. Watching sympathetic heroes work through their experiences often has more impact on my life than a rigorously reasoned abstract argument. Watching Eric Liddell run for God in Chariots of Fire proves to me that living for God without compromise is worth far more than what the world provides. Reliving the dilemmas of Captain John Miller and his men in Saving Private Ryan reminds me to be grateful for those who sacrificed for the precious freedom I enjoy. Movies like these force me to reevaluate my life so that I don’t squander it on self-seeking pettiness. I remember some movies better than most sermons, probably because they put flesh onto the skeleton of abstract ideas about how life ought or ought not to be lived. (17)
And then, in this insightful passage in the same book, he demonstrates how all of us rely on philosophy and worldviews in our day-to-day lives far more than we realize:
…the late Francis Schaeffer often pointed out that philosophy, though considered irrelevant by many people, was often a pertinent driving force of culture. The ideas generated by academic thinkers filter down through the high arts into the popular arts and are thus consumed by the masses, often without self-conscious recognition of their philosophical nature. Everybody operates upon a philosophy in life, a worldview.
People may not call their philosophical beliefs by their academic names of metaphysics (reality), epistemology (knowledge) and ethics (morality), but they operate upon them nevertheless. When a person says that someone ought not to butt in line at a movie theater (ethics) because everyone knows (epistemology) that “first come, first served” is the way the world works and that “what goes around, comes around” (metaphysics), then knowingly or unknowingly she is expressing a philosophy. When a kid watches the animated movie Shrek, he probably doesn’t know about Carl Jung’s theories of psychological types and the collective unconscious, but he is ingesting them nonetheless through those characters and that story adapted after the Jungian model. (92)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the film “Creed” and its worldviews:
Worldview(s) of ‘Creed’: A Critique of the ‘Follow Your Heart’ Mantra of Hollywood
While religion or spiritual themes never come up in the script — “Creed” is the first Rocky script, by the way, not written by Stallone — a transcending theme does surface in the story.
Much of the conflict at the heart of the story has to do with names: What name should we go by? What do the names of our ancestors mean to us? How do their names affect us or change our destiny? Do we want to live under the shadow of those names or make new names for ourselves — carve our own path? Should we be independent or interdependent?
And if I were to link one specific worldview with how “Creed” answers these questions, I would say it is tem
pered Romanticism — particularly the version of Romanticism that we find expressed relentlessly in rugged Western individualism. Though, in this case, “Creed” works as a warning against Romanticism.
Let me explain what I mean: Romanticism, as Hollywood Worldviews points out, “exalt[s] the individual over impersonal, abstract systems. Self-fulfillment, not practicality was the basis for morality…Because of the romantics’ exaltation of emotion and denigration of reason and rules, one could say that the current theme, found in many movies, of following your heart instead of your head (or doing your duty) is a reflection of a romantic worldview in film.”
So whenever you hear a movie or TV show tell you to “follow your heart,” you’re hearing a modern American version of Romanticism, a worldview that was birthed in the 1700s and provided the foundation for Existentialism.
In “Creed” we see its hero Adonis Johnson disobey the rules of his mother, buck against the expectations of the system by quitting his job just after getting a promotion, all in the name of following his heart and launching a full-time boxing career — and all with the goal of making a name for himself that is not connected in any way to his father’s famous name Apollo Creed. In fact, he tries to keep it a secret that he is Apollo Creed’s son.
As the story develops, he fights against anything that threatens his independence, and he refuses to rely in any way on his father’s legacy. If this were a true Romantic tale, he would have carried that conviction of his heart through to the very end and succeeded in his career without ever revealing his connection to Apollo Creed. His individualism would have triumphed and shown that he could succeed without relying on his dad or anyone else. That was definitely what his heart was telling him to do — “do it all on your own.”
But certain events force him to correct his course. He stops following his heart’s desire for total independence, and he begins listening to his head — and to the advice of others. He eventually comes to terms with his father and permits a measure of reliance on his father’s legacy.
I won’t say how, but we also see a similar journey from stubborn independence to humbled interdependence in Rocky Balboa’s character arch in “Creed.” And although the fighting drama with the Adonis Creed character provides all the fireworks and thrills, the battle in Rocky Balboa’s soul is the heart of the film — and Stallone’s portrayal of it is why it’s getting Oscar-buzz.
Conclusion: ‘Creed’ Teaches the Power of Interdependence and Why ‘Following Our Hearts’ Doesn’t Always Take Us Where We Need to Go
The book of Proverbs (i.e. Prov. 19:20) tells us to seek the wise counsel of others and not be stubbornly self-reliant. “Creed” has a similar message: it’s not wise to only “follow your heart.” It’s not enough. And sometimes our hearts deceive us and lead us off course. It is wiser to follow wise counsel, heed our moral obligations to others instead of dismissing them in the name of personal preference and comfort, and humbly allow there to be interdependence in our lives instead of stubbornly clinging to independence.
If Adonis Creed had stubbornly clung to his independence, he never would have got up from the mat when his greatest foe knocked him down.
My rating for “Creed”: [usr 9] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read our editor Kevin’s new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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