Rocky relationships

I grew up watching the Rocky films, so after Sylvester Stallone received a Golden Globe for his performance in Creed, I thought it about time to see that one too.

Like Mary Anne, Johnson, and Rocky, we are a family of adopted and wounded brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers bonded by a sacrificial love.

Since it had been decades since I’d seen the first film, I decided to watch Rocky first. Rocky, which won Best Picture, was written by Stallone, who also was nominated for his portrayal of the blue-collar boxer who holds his own in the ring with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

I must admit, I love Stallone’s portrayal of the younger Balboa—an uneducated, reluctant loan shark debt collector with a compassionate, good heart who pursues connection, love, and the heavyweight title with the same quiet persistence. Frankly, I think Rocky is a wonderful story of salvation and the transformational power of relationships.

These things seem to take a backseat in most of the sequels—but not in Creed.

That film introduces us to Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. After Johnson’s mother dies, he is in and out of foster care until Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow, takes him in and raises him.

Johnson grows up to be a successful young man, but even as an adult he struggles with living under the legend of his father. When he decides to pursue boxing, he seeks out Balboa, who became good friends with Creed before he died. Johnson sees Balboa as the closest thing to an uncle he’s got.

But life has taken its toll on Balboa. His wife, Adrian, and brother-in-law Paulie have died, and his son has moved away. Balboa has retreated from life. He no longer goes to the gym, and instead spends time at his quiet restaurant or sitting on a folding chair by Adrian’s and Paulie’s graves.

Balboa reluctantly agrees to train Johnson, and the two slowly form a deep familial bond. Both men are, as Balboa puts it at one point, “still caught in the shadows,” but their relationship transforms them both, helping Johnson work through the losses he suffered as a child and Balboa embrace life again despite its risks and pain. Stallone’s raw and vulnerable portrayal of Balboa’s struggle through pain and loss deserves his recent Globe win and Oscar nod.

But Creed isn’t only a solid addition to Rocky’s story—it also gives us a wonderful image of the saving and transformational power of loving relationships.

I resonate with stories about makeshift families like this because they remind me of the kind of family we are invited into when we become Jesus’ disciples.  Like Mary Anne, Johnson, and Rocky, we are a family of adopted and wounded brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers bonded by a sacrificial love that embraces the value and necessity of each member—old or young—and desires and puts the best interest of the other above ourselves.

And that kind of messy, risky love helps to transform and move us out of our personal shadows and makes our lives together a light to the world around us.

Not bad for a film about boxers.

Yo, Rocky. You did it. And we thank you.


Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some sensuality)

All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.