A new Rocky movie. I checked out of the Rocky series about the time Mr. T checked in. (Not that I didn’t enjoy Rocky III, but I felt the character was veering in a cartoonish direction.) And the thing about the latter day Rockys (V and Balboa) is that they felt a little desperate to me. I mean, from the trailers.
At the same time, I think Stallone got a raw deal in a lot of ways. While he went for the commercial stuff (and back then, it was pretty much go for the big BO or be declared washed up—we forget, sometimes, how truly edgy Johnny Depp’s career path was), I think he was largely shut out because of his politics (or perceived politics), like Charlton Heston or John Milius. That is, once the big box office fell off, it was easy to ostracize him. (But what do I know?) I’ll never forget watching some talk show where critic/evil person Jeffrey Lyons mocked Stallone because his pet project was to play Edgar Allan Poe. I think he could’ve done it, frankly, and well, and it’s not like there’s a glut of movies about Poe.
That water under the ’80s bridge, the thing about Creed is that it doesn’t feel desperate. Stallone is Rocky, now 40 years later, being approached by the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis. Doni, as he’s called, can’t get trained back in L.A. but figures he can sort of guilt Rocky into doing it. So, off to Philadelphia we go, where widowed, orphan, last survivor Rocky runs a restaurant (called “Adrian’s”) and hobbles along in his 70 year old body.
Stallone is actually quite fit—I don’t think he ever let himself go like Arnie—but he does a convincing not-quite-healthy-but-doesn’t-want-to-admit it.
The movie itself is basically an urban update of the original. Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Johnny Storm in the recent, tragic Fantastic 4 reboot) has teamed up with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler to tell the (once again) improbable story of a 30-year-old fighter who gets a shot at the belt because the champ’s manager thinks he’ll be easy pickings. (Remember the difference in your fighting venues: Boxing is rigged, wrestling is staged, movies are fake.) But Doni’s willing to sacrifice and train his heart out to win, while wooing his increasingly deaf musician girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and teaching Rocky how to live—and love—again.
It’s not as good as the original, of course, but it is remarkably good in its own right, and worthy of respect for the balance it achieves. The training montages don’t rouse the blood like the original, although the occasional callback to Conti’s score are a definite thrill for the old timers. The boxing captures a lot of the feel of Stallone’s boxing sequences: They make you feel the hits, so that you don’t mind the slowness. (Well, okay, maybe most people don’t notice it, but everything is considerably slowed down so that the audience can actually see it. Real boxers are fast, except maybe George Foreman in his 40s.) Interestingly, they went for “light heavyweight” rather than Rocky’s heavyweight category: Maybe the muscle-bound figures of yore are passé.
The love story is nice. The backstory with a tender but, shall-we-say conflicted Mrs. Creed (Phylicia Rashad!) gives us a good launching point, even if it mostly drops away. And ol’ Rocky himself has his own struggle and character arc. There’s a lot going on. It all feels well-rounded, which may be why it doesn’t have, say, quite the intensity of the original. But again, that’s kind of a nitpick. It’s a good movie, and a very nice conclusion (if it is!) to the series—which, cartoonish-ness and all, still stands as one of the better movie series, taken in toto.
The Boy was very pleased with it (he has yet to see the original) and felt Stallone was certainly Oscar-worthy, even when compared to the not-nominated Tom Hardy as Mad Max.
Worth checking out, if you like boxing pix.