Another film may have won the night, but this film won the fight.
Ryan Coogler's Creed delivers a powerful knockout blow in the story structure department. Want to know why it scores 94% on Rotten Tomatoes? Every Throughline is accounted for and the thematic elements in each all add up to a coherent and consistent message: never back down.
A lesser film would simply hit viewers over the head with that controlling idea, Creed does it with skill and panache. That single tracking shot during "Hollywood Donnie's" first fight? Simply icing on the cake of a terrific story.
Adonis "Donnie" Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is Apollo Creed's son, a label he wants everyone to stop using (Main Character Throughline of Universe, Main Character Growth of Stop). Donnie is presumption and anytime he gets an opportunity to show people how wrong they are about him, he takes it--and shows them the truth (Main Character Problem of Presumption, Main Character Focus of Deviation, and Main Character Direction of Accurate). Donnie doesn't hesitate to step into the ring, from beginning to end, and comes to terms with being his father's son (Main Character Approach of Do-er, Main Character Resolve of Steadfast, and Story Judgment of Good).
Then we have the boxing world, complete with training sessions, amateur fights, and championship bouts--all with one goal in mind: to determine who is the best (Objective Story Throughline of Physics, Objective Story Concern of Doing). Everyone has their place in this world, a ranking that determines who they can fight and who they can't, a ranking that generally favors those with more fights under the belt (Objective Story Issue of Experience and Objective Story Problem of Determination). Tensions rise and punches are thrown the moment someone says something intolerable and as reflected in Donnie's Throughline, the resulting efforts are geared towards setting the record straight (Objective Story Focus of Deviation, Objective Story Direction of Accurate). In the end, it is Donnie who shocks the audience and even the announcers themselves, driving them to proclaim they "never expected" to see Creed still standing. Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) may have won, but it was Protagonist Creed that ultimately showed everyone how it was done by beating their expectations (Story Outcome of Success, Story Goal of Doing, and Objective Story Solution of Expectation). "Conlan won the fight, but Creed won the night."
Challenging Donnie's emotional growth every step of the way, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) enters the film with his mind set: he's not getting back in the ring (Obstacle Character Throughline of Mind). Determined to avoid the same fate as his beloved deceased wife Adrian, Rocky refuses to seek treatment for cancer, preferring to live out his days numb and unresponsive to life's blows (Obstacle Character Problem of Determination, Obstacle Character Concern of Preconscious). Remembering the endless bouts his wife experienced with chemo, Rocky prefers to keep it quiet and lets the disease consume him (Obstacle Character Focus of Unending and Obstacle Character Direction of Ending).
Unfortunately for Rock he develops a relationship with Donnie, a battle of wits and a battle of how one sees the world (Relationship Story Throughline of Psychology). They're both fighters and come together almost as a way to make up for Apollo Creed's tragic end (Relationship Story Problem of Cause). Seeing the results of their hard work brings them closer and gives them both a reason to climb those steps at the end together (Relationship Story Solution of Effect).
More importantly though--and essential for the story's meaning--is Rock's eventual paradigm shift. He changes his Resolve the moment he declares that he looks forward to seeking treatment for his disease (Obstacle Character Resolve Changed, Obstacle Character Solution of Expectation). It may appear at first glance that both Rock and Donnie change their resolve. After all, Donnie comes to terms with his father's legacy.
But Donnie's revelation that he wants to know that he was not a mistake is something he will never know. It's almost as if he is accepting that part of himself--that Main Character Problem of Presumption--and owning it as a source of pride and a source of drive. Narratively speaking, he grows into his Resolve.
Creed is a welcome addition to the Rocky mythos. Expertly told, brilliantly shot, and honestly acted, this film sits up there with the best of the best for 2015. Spotlight may have won the night, but there were plenty of other contenders that beat all expectations.
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