Sylvester Stallone heads to Philadelphia one more time as we are reunited with Rocky Balboa, as he re-enters the boxing world, this time in the corner of a determined young man looking to create his own legacy – while fighting to emerge from the shadow of another one.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish
Run Time: 133 Minutes
Release Date: 15 January (UK)/Out Now (US)
Rocky is movie history. Of this there is no doubt. Still to this day one of the great movie, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is big-screen royalty, one of Hollywood’s great characters. And while none of the following five sequels ever came close to the majesty of the original, the entire series is one that remains held, and rightfully so, in high reverence.
So when it was announced that a new movie in the franchise was in production, there was understandably some hesitation. Even more so when it became clear that Stallone was not only not writing – a first in the Rocky series – but also the support. Of course, at his advancing age, few were surprised at this development, but it was no understatement to say that there were more than a few disapproving murmurs that a series that was concluded pretty fittingly with Rocky Balboa would be reopened – and this time focusing on the son of one of Balboa’s greatest opponents. Now that’s a challenge.
But it’s one that director Ryan Coogler certainly appears up for early on. Almost as if to show that he is certainly not messing around, he impressively shoots a lengthy fight sequence in one unbroken take. It is a remarkable shot, and one that is superbly carried out by all involved. Michael B. Jordan, carrying a natural charisma that confirms once more that failures experienced by the awful remake of Fantastic Four were not due to the actors involved. He is engaging and makes it easy to relate to the struggles that a young Adonis Johnson deals with, trying to escape the shadow of a legend that he never knew. As the fighter – and maybe more, the man – inside him grows, from the rookie fighter landing blow after blow up to the confident fighter looking to land the vital strike, Jordan is excellent and a natural fit. It is Stallone, however, that delivers the knockout blow. Putting in a performance that many surely doubted was there to give, the veteran staggers onto screen, carrying the baggage of the previous six films and a franchise that many felt was on it’s last legs.
And from the minute he appears, the film is turned on it’s head. Looking totally comfortable as a Rocky not looking to overcome the odds and knock down an angry Russian, but instead as a Rocky that spends his time revisiting the past – a seemingly-innocuous graveside scene is particularly moving – before finding himself drawn back into a world that he had left behind. The chemistry between the new mentor and student seems natural, in the sense of both character and actor, and seemingly within minutes those disapproving murmurs quickly fade away. While there is no doubt that there are some familiar beats with the original Rocky, this isn’t just lip service for long-time fans, this provides a different kind of energy.
With Rocky Balboa providing a fitting, if underrated, conclusion to the Rocky story, it allows Creed to step out of the shadow and earn it’s own place in the Balboa mythos. While undoubtedly echoing the basic story of the previous saga’s stories, and providing enough twists and turns on the way to it’s suitably-emotional conclusion, great performances, Coogler’s vision and more than enough muscle to pull plenty of Rocky-tinged heartstrings, this is a true heavyweight champion.
Open up that ‘best of 2016’ file, we have another early entry.