This will not be an unbiased review. There isn’t any doubt that the Rocky series means different things to different people. For that matter, the Rocky Balboa character holds different meanings as well. For some Rocky was another example of 80s cheese or a franchise that went to the well one (or four) too many times. For others, Rocky is a trivia answer, or at best a DVD you or your friends once owned. However, for others, Rocky Balboa is far more a John Wayne type. His Philly streets (and his rise and fall upon them) were far closer to the American dream than any Western landscape. It is, I shall not try to hide it, to this last group that I belong.
For me, Rocky Balboa was many things. As a child, he was a superhero. As a teen, he was an inspiration. It would seem fitting that I enjoy the Rocky movies seeing how much I love boxing, but to be honest, I’m not so sure which was the chicken and which was the egg. Much of what I now am is due to my appreciation of the Rocky series growing up. But that’s only the beginning of it.
What happens as one grows up with Rocky is that the stories they never knew they were paying attention to become the guidelines for every future narrative. Revisiting Rocky just last year, I identified with the pain of the first movie. I saw the ache, hate and division of those Philly streets and quickly felt that I’d seen that place before — it’s where we still reside today.
In retrospect, it is nearly impossible to say how much growing up with Rocky affected me. It is in my love of boxing, but also in my love of the underdog. It is in my love of movies, but also in my love of storytelling. It is more than that someone wrote the first movie, it is that Stallone wrote the first movie in an attempt to escape whomever others would have always had him be (and decades before Matt and Ben made writing one’s deliverance cool).
All of this leads us to this weekend’s release of Creed. To love something is to eagerly await its arrival. To love something that others do not is something slightly different. As much as one is eager, there also exists the fear of ridicule which professing your love for the unpopular can often bring. This was me up until this afternoon. I knew I’d like Creed. I liked what it was (a continuation) and I also loved what it was not (an unoriginal reboot). I was intrigued by the fact that Stallone had given way to another writer for the first time, but I was thrilled by the story that he’d not done so lightly at all. I was excited by the new voices that would be involved in the project, but even more excited by the stories behind the story (the young, black director is almost less of a Hollywood rarity than the female crew he assembled to shape his new film).
Creed hits so many of the right notes that is it scary. Know little of Rocky, and it is just a good, good movie. Know a lot of Rocky and it is an Easter-egg filled treat. The soundtrack is beautiful, but then so too is the lighting. The fight scenes are shot creatively and put the viewer far more inside the action than in the WWE when the E was still an F, Star Wars before the Special Edition-esque fight choreography of old. The contrast between rags-to-riches Rocky and riches-to-rags Adonis is notable, but also nurtures empathy. In a world far too filled with Us and Them, Creed takes a page from Forster and begs us to simply connect. In so many ways, Creed was simply a well made film, and one leaves realizing that Ryan Coogler is capable of turning anyone into a star — and yet he didn’t need to here.
Perhaps it was predictable that Coogler/Michael B Jordan Part II was going to be magical. Jordan is a talented, mature actor who has leading man/future Oscar winner (maybe this spring, when he’d be the youngest ever to hoist that award) written all over him. The depth, adaptability and urgency he brings to young Adonis is spectacular to watch. Many may regret the recent Fantastic Four remake, but it does allow this one observation — After watching Jordan in Creed, an actor who once played the Human Torch can once again be said to have become Captain America. This young man has it all. It’s a pleasure to watch.
Perhaps (far) less predictable was Coogler’s ability to elevate Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky into what may well become a Best Supporting Actor nomination. To me, Stallone has always had it. He often tucks “it” away and takes the paycheck, but the guy is a serious artist. It was a pleasure to watch his probable final turn as Rocky Balboa.
I’ll end with this. See the movie and you’ll smile, don’t see it and you’ll have gained at least something from my rambling. Throughout Creed there is a mantra — something I think I’ll be writing more on in the future — One step, One punch, One round. Leaving Creed, I think this challenge to reflect will be what I’ll focus on most of all. Where am I in my walk today, where am I at this moment? Is this a time to gain momentum, is this a time to use it? Is this chapter almost ending? How then can I end this period in style? Is another moment sure to follow? How can I prepare myself for that challenge? Maybe it’s the Rocky in me. But since I’m surely not alone, I really recommend this film. Enjoy.