Creed ’s Lessons On Manhood

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Warner Bros

The idea to make a seventh Rocky movie was always absurd. What new story could possibly be told in a world that had already given audiences six films? Director Ryan Coogler, who’s only previous credit was Fruitvale Station, had the audacity to think he was the right person to bring Rocky Balboa back to the big screen. It worked. Creed is a miracle. With Creed II in theaters, it’s the perfect time to reconsider how Creed treated its male characters, and created an almost perfect movie in the process.

The movie follows Adonis, the orphaned son of Rocky’s rival turned friend Apollo Creed. Adonis’s goal is simple: He wants to become a great fighter. More specifically, he wants to prove that he’s worthy of his father’s name. All of Black Panther director Ryan’s movies zero in on masculinity, and how fathers shape their sons.

The genius of Creed is that Adonis is reckoning with a father he never knew. Apollo is a legacy more than a man. He was totally absent from Adonis’s life. Apollo’s journey in the original Rocky is from a villain to a confidant and friend. With Creed, Apollo’s life is further complicated. Adonis is, in some sense, a bastard. Apollo did not have him with his wife, and so Apollo shoved him aside and died at a young age.

When we meet Adonis as an adult, it’s easy to be confused by him. He’s been given a good life. Apollo’s money means that he never has to want for anything, and the son has a good, albeit boring, career. All Adonis wants, though, is to be a fighter. He’s emulating his father.

Michael B. Jordan’s work in this film is nothing short of extraordinary. As Adonis, he plays a proud man who’s also deeply wounded. Michael plays Creed as a man who’s always out to prove himself. He feels inadequate, an issue that the movie seems to suggest comes from the way his father abandoned him.

Tellingly, Adonis doesn’t go by Creed when the movie begins. He feels he has to earn that name.

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Warner Bros

Adonis may be a Creed by name, but it’s his relationship with a new father figure, Rocky, that ultimately defines the film. It’s Adonis who convinces Rocky to come out of retirement, and their relationship is the one Adonis learns the most from. Not only does Rocky train him, he gives him a sense of self-worth. When Rocky is diagnosed with cancer, Adonis gives him something to fight for. He gives him a reason to keep on working. Sylvester Stallone‘s willingness to play Rocky this time around as someone vulnerable and weak is hugely important to this movie. We understand his loneliness and fragility — maybe for the first time in the franchise.

When we first meet Adonis, he seems unruly. He’s fighting in Mexico, and winning pretty handily, but it’s not clear why he’s fighting. Adonis is adrift. He’s in danger of becoming the kind of man who is only interested in the fight for the fight’s sake.

By the end of the movie, after he’s met Rocky and Bianca, he’s formed something of a family. Rocky’s got something to fight for in the same way that he gives Adonis something to fight for.

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Warner Bros

What Adonis ultimately realizes is fairly simple: He doesn’t have to become his father. He can take parts of his father, parts of Rocky, and parts of Apollo’s widow Mary Anne, and use them to become someone new. Adonis transforms into someone who fights for those around him.

The final fight of the first Creed gives Adonis a chance to prove that he’s worthy of his father’s name. In taking on that name, Adonis necessarily transforms it. He takes his father’s legacy and promises to build a better one. You can be a good man in the ring and outside of it, and Adonis wants to prove that.

Pushing Through the Past

Our parents can shape how we see the world, even if they are absent. Adonis spends the first 30 years of his life trying to figure out why he was cast aside by Apollo. It’s only when he discovers how little that question matters that he’s able to forge his own path.

Creed suggests that being a good man is not the same thing as being a great one. Apollo was certainly a great man, and a magnificent athlete. He was also an unfaithful husband and an unloving father. Adonis wants to be good and great, and Creed posits that he can be as long as he remembers who he is outside of the ring every time that he steps into it.