Film review of the boxing drama, following on from the previous Rocky films, with Sylvester Stallone reprising his role as Rocky Balboa, now training the long-lost son (Michael B. Jordan) of his former rival Apollo Creed.
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Director: Ryan Coogler. (133 mins). MGM/Warner/New Line Cinema/Chartoff-Winkler. (12a).
Cast & credits
Producer: Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler.
Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington.
Camera: Maryse Alberti.
Music: Ludwig Göransson.
Sets: Hannah Beachler.
Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran.
Former World Heavyweight boxing champ Rocky Balboa (Stallone) becomes the trainer and mentor to the illegitimate son (Johnson) of his former rival and latter friend Apollo Creed when Creed’s widow (Rashad) finds out he is in prison.
A welcome, if not unfamiliar, return to some crowd-pleasing ringside sparring. A timely moment to attempt resuscitating the Rocky franchise, in a coma since Stallone’s last effort, Rocky Balboa, was released in 2006)-.
That Balboa (who, like Stallone, would be in his late sixties if he existed in real life) would now be unable to put on a boxing glove unassisted let alone go 12 rounds with Ricky ‘The Pretty’ Conlon (a cracking turn from Brit Bellew, more of him later) is not an issue for this respectful and gently hagiographic script. His increasing infirmity is nodded to at frequent points and worked into the narrative firmly when he is diagnosed with cancer.
Just like the recent Star Wars reboot, we are slowly encouraged beyond this film to what will presumably follow in a new series, but there are lots of signposts to the triumphs of the past (Creed’s namesake gym, the statue of Rocky, archive footage of Creed blown-up on a huge TV screen).
Stallone, although not the greatest of actors, has always been the consummate cinema performer, twinkles brightly here.
He has probably never had such good dialogue to date. Here, he settles back and has worldly-wise fun imbuing the role previously inhabited by the late, great Burgess Meredith (also, coincidentally, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor as the younger Balboa’s trainer back in 1977). He proves to be more than just a worthy successor.
There are touching scenes (Balboa revisiting the old gyms of his youth, relaxing reading a paper as his training regime pummels young Creed and talking to his late, beloved wife Adrian as he visits her grave) and had the writers been a bit gamier, Stallone could pushed even further than here and fired on all cylinders with some knock-out drama, but we are cut short.
Not a problem if after relatively low-key drama we return to the more important bits of the film, the gruelling training sequences, but the filmmakers dawdle somewhat with other, incidental issues (namely, Creed Jrs. putative and rather disposable romance).
We are given a few juicy jabs, but are then pulled back by the writers/director, as if hesitating how much power in the follow-through the drama should deliver. Still, what we have is good quality and Stallone deserves richly deserves his nomination. (The least said about his plastic, NHS spectacles the better).
NB: has Balboa morphed in Joey from Friends with his first line of the film, “How you doin’?”
Jordan has already proved his mettle in other films. A punchy, intense and jumpy actor, this is his shot at the big-time, much like his character and he grabs it with both gloves.
The film has been dubbed ‘Guy Cry’ and Jordan does indeed blub at one point, but this isn’t mawkish, false or lingered on. It happens suddenly and vanishes quickly and naturally and then we are back to the story proper. The other metrosexual flourishes he indulges in, just to keep the story and characters bang-up to date with societal changes to the boxing male, are doing his girlfriend’s hair whilst talking about ‘problems’ and vainly checking out his star spangled shorts in a locker room mirror (a present from Mom [Rashad]!).
Thompson is fine as the romantic interest threatening (but only just) to divert the man from his all consuming training but, even better, is the RnB soundtrack of which the catchier tunes she sings adding a throbbing sexiness to the film.
Back to Bellew though, as it’s an unusual, but charming, feeling to hear a full-bloodied Scouse accent in a Hollywood blockbuster. Those sing-song cadences and inflections help make him the perfect, sarcastic, foreign antagonist to work Jordan up into a pugilistic frenzy. It’s a voice that could make you dance if you listened to it for long enough and leads us to a whopper of an ending – an American winning over what must be a largely Liverpudlian crowd. No mean feat!
Another point of credit, the camerawork, which spin around our battling Burroughs, with the odd spew of spittle and blood, not so much taking the viewer into the fight, but at a very close, intimate distance.
Original producer Irwin Winkler assumes the role he held in 1976 which won him an Oscar…but now joined by two of his sons.
See the official trailer on Youtube.