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If you ever loved Rocky, run to see 'Creed'

There have been a LOT of Rocky movies over the years.

And to an extent, each reflects its times: as easily seen in the patriotic, Cold War themes of 1985’s “Rocky IV” or the slow-paced, urban poor feel of the original, 1976 “Rocky.”

Now “Creed,” the seventh Rocky movie, has come to the screen, and it too reflects its times but also contains just enough timeless elements to make it one of the best in the entire series.

And kudos to Sylvester Stallone, who didn’t dust the mothballs off Rocky just to make another movie, score another paycheck, but resumed his iconic role in a deliberate effort to give millions of boys and young men in our culture something they don’t have – a mentor and positive father figure. If this is the last Rocky movie (and it definitely feels like it, with its symbolic and touching ending), it’s a fitting last message for the ultimate macho warrior to deliver to the next generation.

The film begins by revealing original Rocky rival and friend Apollo Creed had sired an illegitimate son shortly before his death in the boxing ring. The boy bounced around foster homes, social workers and juvenile centers, the stereotypical – but all too typical – angry, young black man growing up without a father.

The son of a boxer is summed up in one conversation: “He’s a good kid. He just fights … all the time.”

Unable to find a trainer in his native Los Angeles, Creed’s son travels to Philadelphia to ask his father’s old friend, Rocky Balboa, to train him to box. What forms is an uneasy “family” of contrasts – an old white guy from Philly whose glory days lie behind and a young, black kid from L.A. with only pain in the past and a bright future ahead.

The characters in “Creed,” however, far from being just stereotypes, are complex and flawed. The scenes are well-written, thought-provoking and touching. The storyline does reflect the formulaic “sports movie,” but it’s a formula that works and keeps the movie entertaining and drives it to its climax.

It’s the human drama outside the ring, however, that really shines in the film. For it turns out the aging Rocky’s classic, simple lessons – about hard work, overcoming doubt, commitment and being your own man – are exactly the lessons the fatherless son needs most.

Eventually, the young boxer must come to blows with the deepest of his demons, the absence of his father.

“I gotta prove I’m not just a mistake!” he cries out in his darkest moment.

“Forgive him,” Rocky replies, referring to the youngster’s continued anger at his father for not being in his life. “It’s taking a toll on you. You’re still caught in his shadow.”

Rocky continues, encouraging him to take “pride in that you’re doing your best – not for me, not for your father, but for yourself.”

There’s a tale of forgiveness told here, of releasing anger, of taking personal responsibility, of hope and of becoming a man – all tales that too many boys today grow up without.

Yes, the lessons are incomplete without the ultimate hope in Christ, but it’s still a very positive message, a movie that allows Rocky to enter the ring one last time, not as a fighter, but as a mentor. And in “Creed,” Rocky delivers one, last, knockout punch.

Content advisory: