“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Rocky Balboa

tn_rockybalboaI already reviewed ROCKY BALBOA when it came out, but it’s such a great movie I wanted to checked in on it again.

It’s hard to believe this humble character drama is Stallone’s directorial followup to the rock n roll tall tale ROCKY IV. The style, the content, the tone, even the character are from different planets. This one has zero (0) Survivor songs in it and it reminds me less of ROCKY IV than of later Clint Eastwood directorial works: quiet, mournful, wintery colors, gentle piano scoring, character driven, raw. And the trashy people who give Rocky a bunch of shit at a bar could be family members from MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

This is a more pure ROCKY I throwback than ROCKY V was because Rocky’s life is simple, humble and gentle again. He’s not poor – he owns a restaurant called Adrian’s – but that’s not exactly high roller shit. He actually runs the place, seems to be there every day to greet customers, does the hiring and shops for some of the ingredients himself. It’s small, and Paulie makes fun of his “Italian food made by Mexicans.”

That Adrian has died since part V is crucial. Even in V, when Rocky lost “everything,” he didn’t lose Adrian. Rocky is alone again, but seems to take it in stride, because he’s Rocky. Although the beginning is specifically about marking the anniversary of Adrian’s death by visiting important places like the ruins of the skating rink where they had their first date, I get the feeling that the shot of him sitting contently at her grave in a folding chair is a pretty regular occurrence. And I love that Paulie lingers uncomfortably on the perimeter just like he did in II when she was in the hospital. He’s very aware that he’s an asshole and doesn’t deserve to be near her as much as Rocky does. He’s tormented by how he treated her.

I like their still messy-friendship. Paulie keeps showing up to the restaurant drunk and causing scenes, but Rocky is always forgiving. That might be because Paulie’s the only person he has to yell at about how hard his life is when he finally breaks.

Meanwhile his relationship with Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia, completing the pattern of different Juniors in each sequel) is a much better execution of the father-son tensions in V. Junior seems a little over his head at his big corporate job, and visibly stressed by all the attention his dad constantly gets from random autograph-seekers, well-wishers or his own boss. He has a hard time living in the shadow of the Stallion, which Rocky tries to be patient with until he finally gives the kid a great emotional speech about not blaming his unhappiness on other people.

mp_rockybalboaIn my ROCKY review I didn’t get into the odd scene where he walks home the teenage girl Marie and lectures her about hanging out with boys and cursing, and how they’re gonna think she’s a whore. It seems like kinda well-intended but dumb advice (which maybe is why she thanks him by yelling “Screw you, creepo!”) Rocky might know more about the specific people and situation than we do, otherwise let the girl talk how she wants, silly. Anyway, I totally forgot that he runs into Marie (now played by Geraldine Hughes, GRAN TORINO) and he befriends her, kind of makes it his hobby to help out her and (after some initial, possibly race-based hesitation) her teenage son Steps (James Francis Kelly III, THE NEXT THREE DAYS). I love the part where he’s talking to her and suddenly pulls out a light bulb because he noticed the first time he ran into her that her porchlight was out. He convinces her that it’s okay to do nice things for people just because you want to. And he keeps making his corny jokes. As he drives away he says “Yo little Marie. Let there be light!” That’s how we know it’s the real Rocky.

Even physically he seems more like a natural progression of part I than of part III. He’s thicker now, more lumbering, he kinda looks like The Thing. When he holds up his hand and tells Junior that he used to fit in it it looks so giant you would almost believe him if you hadn’t seen ROCKY II and known that he never saw the kid that small because he waited for Adrian to wake up from her coma so they could see him for the first time together. (But he has brain damage. He probly doesn’t remember that.)

Like the original classic it’s really an intimate character drama that only turns into the underdog sports movie in the second half, and that’s when Apollo’s trainer Duke comes in and gives his greatest speech ever, providing a game plan based on a summary of Rocky’s old man weaknesses. Rocky feels like a true underdog for the first time since part I, because when he’s doing his training montage (with his dog Punchy also wearing a grey sweatshirt) he looks like a goofball, you almost agree with the public if they laugh at him. And he probly would laugh too, but he has no choice but to try his hardest. He has that one eye that resembles a certain dangerous animal. This is also the only sequel where he punches meat again. For old time’s sake.

Of all the ROCKYs this seems like the one most interested in reflecting the real world of boxing. Various personalities play themselves, including the promoter of the fight Lou DiBella. Much of the fight is shot in high definition with onscreen graphics to resemble a pay-per-view event. And though he’s fighting a champ with the perfect ROCKY series name of Mason “The Line” Dixon (played by boxer Antonio Tarver) it’s the most grounded of any of the opponents. He’s a little cocky and spoiled as a mostly unchallenged champion, but does have enough of a head on his shoulders to get fed up and replace his big money trainers with his wise mentor from the old days Martin (Henry G. Sanders, KILLER OF SHEEP, CHILD’S PLAY 3). He means to be generous and not condescending when he tells Rocky “I’ll do my best to carry you, make sure you save face. There’d be no embarrassment,” unless “you hit me, you hurt me.” He doesn’t understand that Rocky is never gonna not try. It’s a different mentality.

It’s kinda like that same stubborn manly pride that upset him to see Adrian working at the pet store again in V, or that causes Spider Rico in this movie to work in the kitchen to repay Rocky for the free meals. He has a certain standard that he sets for himself. He doesn’t care what anybody else thinks, or he wouldn’t be trying this in the first place. He just knows what he has to do for himself.

Of course this is all heading toward basically a reworking of the perfect ending of ROCKY. But I think it works again and that’s because it is still so visibly sincere. Look at where Stallone was in his career at that point. In the nine years since COP LAND his starring roles had been the GET CARTER remake (which few saw and fewer liked), DRIVEN (which was considered a flop) and D-TOX (which sat on the shelf and then went DTV under the title EYE SEE YOU). He hadn’t officially directed a movie in 21 years. He has said that because of the failure of ROCKY V this was harder to get made than the original ROCKY. He started pitching it in 1996, but people must’ve reacted kinda the way they did to Rocky when he told them he was thinking about boxing again. He had to wait for MGM to change leadership in 2005 to finally convinced somebody this movie was a good idea.

You wouldn’t have to know all of that to be able to feel that Stallone is serious about where Rocky is at in this movie. People still get excited to see him and take their pictures with him with their fists up, but he burns inside to do something new, to prove to himself that he still has something to offer. It’s real. You can feel it. I can admit that this movie made me cry. It’s the real deal.

And it’s a perfect ending to the ROCKY saga. We’ll see if the character continuing on in a spin-off is a good addition to that legacy or not, but as far as the original ROCKY series, this puts an excellent cap on it. He’s not trying to win best picture again, he’s just trying to have a good showing. And he did it. Yo Adrian (and Mickey and Apollo and Butkus and Cuff and Link and Moby Dick and Paulie’s robot), he did it!

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

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27 Responses to “Rocky Balboa”

  1. I remember really enjoying this one up until the climatic fight, and then was disappointed in how the boxing was presented. It has been to long since I watched it to try and articulate what about the filmatism in the fight presentation that bugged me so much, but I am looking forward to revisiting it and giving it another shot.

  2. This is one of the most unabashedly earnest movies in the last 10 years.

    Everybody in it is coming from the heart from Stallone to Burt Young and Tony Burton. Some of the greatest scenes are just taking a peak into 2006 Philly with Spider Rico and Rocky still hanging around in some of the best scenes in the entire series. Even Punchy really shines. Definitely a top 3 ROCKY no matter what other 2 you put up there with it.

    It was one of the last times I saw a movie at the flicks multiple times. It wasn’t till FURY ROAD this year that I had done that again in some time it’s that infrequent an occurrence for me. One of the times I saw it I saw it with some girl who didn’t even like the ROCKY series and she was in tears when Rocky visits Adrian at the end. That’s the power of honest cinema folks.

  3. Charles – The irony is that this is the one boxing match in all the movies that boxing experts and industry people really dug.

  4. Spot on Vern. This is the first Rocky film I saw at the cinema (all the others were VHS repeat rentals when I was a kid) and I’ve never witnessed a cinema audience erupt before or since like they did when Duke says “Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs!” and the training montage begins.

    I remember reading reports that a Rocky 6 was gonna happen back in the late 90’s, when the rumored plot was supposedly Rocky fighting Samuel Jackson (!) in order to raise money to save a local youth hostel. I’m glad that didn’t happen. I like that Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon isn’t a one-note villain but a guy who’s on his own redemptive path. Sly doesn’t BS us either about Rocky’s chances either – he makes it pretty clear that if Dixon didn’t break his hand early on, the fight would’ve been over for Rocky pretty fast. When Rocky realizes that he now has a chance and goes to work on the champ, it’s a goddamn beautiful thing to see.

    The ending to this film is pretty much as perfect as it can be, and I pray that all the reviews I’ve read so far about Creed are right and it does justice to the character. I just can’t believe that I’ve got to wait until January for it to be released here in the UK.

  5. Man, what a great movie. After years in the wilderness Sly comes back with the Stalloneassaince and a couple of great movies in ROCKY BALBOA and RAMBO. These articles really hit the spot this week too, because it’s been a pleasure to revisit them in my head. ROCKY V wasn’t awesome, but it’s still not a bad film (it’s not STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT! at least), it just gets a bad rap because the other ones are so iconic. Really, is there another series where the villains are so memorable?

    Stallone has made some questionable choices (Rambo helping the Mujahideen, COBRA, fucking Brigitte Nielsen, etc…) but when he’s on, he’s really great. I don’t think Ahnuld has made the same great kind of comeback but he was never the actor, writer, director triple-threat that Stallone could be. Anyway, you could see that his career is flawed in a big way, but his fight to get this beautiful film made to close out the series made me respect the hell out of him.

  6. Loved this ROCKY retrospective. Great stuff, Vern.

    I remember seeing ROCKY BALBOA in a mostly empty theater, and there were a few single men, in their 40’s and older, who were by themselves watching this movie, and during the final fight scene they actually started cheering on Rocky and got really into it, and I just loved that. Proof positive that this movie WORKS.

    Also there is a final image, after they show that cute montage of random people running up those steps and posing a la Rocky, of Stallone standing at the steps, looking out over the city, with snow falling around him, and a little Bill Conti music cue kicks in underneath it all, and it might possibly be my most favorite bit in all six of these films. Apparently it was a genuine moment of reflection Stallone was having and the crew filmed him without knowing and they used it cause it’s dope.

  7. Broddie, I remember that being the case, but it wasn’t the boxing I had a problem with it was the filmatism and how the boxing was presented. However, in general the ROCKY franchise is a poor representation of the sweet science. I think most of the boxing matches in the franchise feature competitors with their hands down around their waste not defending themselves standing toe to toe trading haymakers. I not sure if Rocky ever even throws a jab to set up another punch throughout the course of the series, it is all power punches. I am not saying this to try and disparage the Rocky franchise, I love pro wrestling and have no problem with dramatized fisticuffs that lean toward entertainment over realism. At least this film featured a real pro fighter still in his prime and Tarver probably had a lot to do with helping create a much more realistic presentation.

  8. Supposing CREED is next, I will save my CREED comments for the review. I’ll second a question from a previous thread: Don’t suppose you’d visit GRUDGE MATCH for desert after the main course?

  9. Crushinator Jones

    November 24th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I don’t know if I would call Grudge Match a dessert. It’s more like a gross lime-coconut hard candy that has been stuck in your grandpa’s pocket for half a decade.

  10. One of the things I always knew but is coming out more and more as I contemplate these films together and in isolation and in light of each film’s general historical-time-capsule backdrop…is just the plainly obvious fact that Rocky is a window into where Sly is at any given time. How he’s feeling about life and what he has to say about life at any given time–just where he’s at with things. The films evolve with Sly over his own lifespan and his ups and downs and the zeitgeist. Not that Sly is Rocky, but Rocky is his vehicle for (both consciously and unconsciously) sharing his inner life with the world. And he shares pretty much all of it. There are enduring themes, there are some questionable choices, some moments of manic excess, and some moments of melancholic rumination and even a bit of self-pity. But it’s always Sly speaking from his heart.

    This is a beautiful movie with some of Sly’s very best acting. What amazes me is how in some films he goes out of his way to protect and preserve Sly’s physical vanity, macho persona, and ability to keep running with the young stallions (Expendables); then at about the same time, he does a movie where he exposes all of his flaws and age and vulnerability, just laid bare. Just as 80s Rocky fuses with 80s Sly (for good and ill), Sly at this mid-aughts point of his career (as Vern describes) and Rocky are one, and it’s all good.

  11. I love this movie. And every time I am feeling down, I watch the scene where Rocky gives the shadow speech to his son. Works every time.

    Oh and when I first saw I thought the audience at the theater was cheering for Rocky during the fight, but then realized that it was just a very effective use of surround sound.

    I am fine with it now but back when the movie came out (almost ten years ago, wow) I was a bit bummed that Stallone looked so big. It was obvious that Stallone had been working out before filming, but I don’t think that Rocky would have been doing the same – specially considering Duke’s speech (why go through all of Rocky’s weaknesses if he had been training hard all this time? He would know.)

    I don’t like movies 3 and 4, but that’s still four good movies out of six. Not bad at all. Pumped for Creed tomorrow.

  12. Fred, if “Grudge Match” becomes dessert, “Italian Stallion” should have been the appetizer.

    Actually … naah. The trailer is a hoot, but enjoyment of reading Vern’s take probably doesn’t justify how punishing the full-length must be.

  13. Well, I’d hope Grudge Match comes before so we can end with a bang, but I realize it’s not for everyone. It makes me happy to see Stallone in a boxing movie, even as another character, and it’s got the Stallone magic of adults reflecting on their lives.

    If anyone follows me on Twitter and wonders why I keep saying Rocky gotta do what he gotta do, it comes from the speech he gives the boxing commission in this movie. The more I think about it, it’s kind of like Rocky’s version of the speech Rambo gives at the end of First Blood. Now I’m sure no one equates a boxer not getting to fight an exhibition with a Vietnam veteran going through hell and experiencing PTSD, but it’s the similar way of an inarticulate character expressing everything inside him.

    Maybe I’m reaching there, but it did make me appreciate revisits to each sequel, each one is about Rocky doing what he gotta do. In Rocky II, he tried doing anything else, but he gotta do a rematch. In Rocky III, he thinks he’s done, but he gotta get the eye of the tiger back. In Rocky IV it’s Adrian telling him he can’t do what he gotta do, but she comes around and joins him in Russia. In Rocky V he thinks it’s training Tommy Gunn, even at the expense of his family.

    Anyway, I celebrate the depth and sensitivity of Stallone and clearly the way he expresses it in Rocky Balboa really spoke to me.

  14. I’ll reserve my comments for the official Creed thread but I have to tell you guys Creed is probably the fourth or fifth best Rocky movie, which is to say it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

  15. Jack Burton that is great to hear. I can’t go see it until Friday but that day can’t get here soon enough.

  16. Yes, looking forward to the Creed review/thread. I think anyone who dug Rocky Balboa is going to really enjoy Creed, which I think is visually and thematically very much staying close to part 6 (whereas part 6 looks and feels quite a bit different from 5). But I’ll (try to) say no more on Creed until we hear from Vern. I’ll try!

  17. Isn’t it interesting how strong Stallone’s choice of villains were in the ’80s sequels but less so moving forward? I mean, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren became icons, and even Hulk Hogan can credit a boost from appearing in Rocky III. Tommy Morrison may have made some poor life decisions, and I don’t even want to blame him to harshly because I don’t know what he was dealing with, certainly Stallone didn’t. Antonio Tarver didn’t really pursue the film thing and by Creed, I don’t think that’s the point of the opponents anyway. Just another aspect of the Stallone/Rocky legacy to consider.

  18. Fred, these cartoonish (and awesome) villains only appear in the films where Rocky is wealthy, loved, and generally at the height of his fictional fame (80s Rocky). Maybe that’s a coincidence, but I don’t think so.

    One hypothesis is what I’ve been calling “80s Rocky” theory, which says that Rocky and Sly both kind of lose touch in the 80s and allow everything about the films (including but not limited to the villains) to get more cartoonish, ridiculous, and excessive–Rocky III is even a bit meta inasmuch as it acknowledges and deconstructs its own excesses. This ascribes all of these things to the general zeitgeist of the 80s, plus the fact that this is the decade when Stallone rose to the pinnacle of his action stardom/typecasting; I don’t think you can really separate these two. It’s hard to totally refute this hypothesis, since the two most cartoonish villains appear in the 80s, and these are the only two Rocky films of the 80s. Also, this is viewed as the decade of greed (S&L crisis, de-regulation, privatization) and an unprecedented cottage industry of unkillable iconic badasses doing unbelievable asskicking feats in vehicle after vehicle (Sly, Arnold).

    Another hypothesis is that, as Rocky moves up the old Maslow hierarchy of needs, he needs more interesting villains to fight in order for their to be real tension, conflict, and stakes. In the early Rocky films he’s coping with poverty and angst at ending up a “never-was.” By part III, Rock is financially very secure and established as a national treasure, so we need to up the ante villain-wise to increase the stakes in a way that offsets the fact that Rocky has made his fortune and won the hearts of millions (so, we can’t go back to that well and need to find other sources of tension). Support for this hypothesis comes from the fact that, whenever Rocky is in relatively humble straights and not established as the reigning champ, his boxing opponent tends to be more grounded and nuanced and less moustache-twirling. (Although he is flamboyant, I put Apollo in the “more grounded and nuanced” category). If you trace the timeline of the films, the cartoonishness of the villain rises and falls with Rocky’s financial and social status.

    Another hypothesis is, by the time we reach part III, we’ve got to do some wacky, interesting stuff just to mix it up, maintain interest in the series, and keep it going. We can’t keeping doing sequels if Rocky always loses at the end of every film, since (a) that would be repetitive (even by Rocky sequel standards), (b) it would be depressing, and (c) it would undercut the case for his continuing to box (which undercuts the basis for continued sequels). So, we’re caught in a kind of Rocky-is-a-demigod bubble: for at least a little while, each new film needs to up the stakes on the boxing front to stay interesting, but it also needs to end in such a way as to keep things open for further sequels without painting those sequels into too much of a corner.

    I don’t think these are mutually exclusive–they are more mutually reinforcing. But the fact is that Clubber and Drago as villains (and III and IV as films) feel to me very much like a different kind of Rocky film from the others. The biggest contrast in terms of clusters of films is (a) Rocky at the pinnacle of riches and fame (III and IV) vs. (b) Humble or even down-on-his-luck Rocky who has little left to lose socially or financially (I, 6, 7). Parts 2 and 5 are transitional films, that have a bit of a foot in both, but I’d say they’re both much closer to group (b).

  19. Caught CREED. It’s fucking terrific ROCKY fan fiction, and I don’t mean that as a knock at all.

    You know maybe its me but there is a fundamental difference between ROCKY and CREED. Well there are a few, but this is one I noticed. ROCKY was penned without any vision/creative outs for sequels. CREED, I saw a few. (I mean how much of ROCKY II was basically tying up loose ends from the first film?)

  20. Okay, I can’t contain it anymore: I’m going to talk about Creed now. I tried, you guys :). There may be spoilers. Also, advance warning that I’ll probly re-paste this under the Creed review. I’ve acknowledged I have a problem.

    There’s a lot I like about this film. It hits the standard Rocky beats very effectively. It nails the Rocky-as-mentor

    relationship in a way that feels earned and natural. Whereas from part 3 on, the sequels kind of jumped around in their look and

    feel, this one picks up thematically and visually where part 6 left off. It’s got a beautiful, gritty, kinetic feel. The Rocky-

    Adonis relationship is beauitful, and it’s just a joy to watch the dynamic between them. The Adonis-Bianca relationship / subplot

    is also very well done. All three of the actors give excellent performances and have great chemistry, and this is one of Stallone’s finest performances as Rocky and perhaps his finest ever, period. The film does about as good

    a job as I could imagine of being both a direct sequel to part 6 and the start of a new series in its own right.

    And that’s really the nub of why I’m of two minds about this film. As Rocky 7, this is an incredibly satisfyingfilm. For me, this feels far more like it’s Rocky’s movie than it is Creed’s. In terms of screen time, scenery-chewing dialogue, pathos, and narrative arc, Stallone is very much sharing top billing and stealing most of the scenes they share. Michael B. Jordan gives a fine performance, but the script gives him far less to work with than Stallone; and narratively, Adonis Creed seems to exist primarily to give Rocky another meaningful chapter in his life and to bring the series full circle. (Rocky 6 and 7 seem to collectively amount to a kind of do-over of what part 5 tried to do in one movie). Part 7 brings things full circle, with Rocky in the Mickey role. It’s a wonderful direct sequel to part 6. I’m not yet prepared to say where I put it in a ranking of all the Rocky films.

    As Creed 1, I’m far more mixed on this film. Michal B. Jordan is a fine actor whom I very much enjoyed him in Chronicle and

    Fruitvale Station. I enjoy watching him act, an he acquits himself just fine here. And while I like the character of Adonis Creed and want to know him better, I worry there is not much else to know. We know he is rich, talented, angry, and hungry, and Apollo Creed’s sone. But that all seems fairly one-note. The great irony for a film that is about Adonis

    stepping out of Apollo’s (and then Rocky’s) shadow to claim his own identity, is that the character never quite

    does that in this film. I am interested him precisely because he is Apollo’s son and Rocky’s protege, and outside of that all the narrative mythology

    and sentimental capital that brings to the table, his story is pretty cliched and, sorry, uninteresting. He serves as a suitable protege to Rocky, and this film works very well as a final chapter of the Rocky saga, but Adonis’s own rise seems strangely contrived and unearned, and I’m not sure how much the character of Adonis has to offer beyond being the perfect narrative lovechild of Rocky and Apollo.

    Fortunately, the narrative and emotional payoff of Rocky’s journey and Stallone’s performance is enough to make this film quite satisfying, and so when I view this as the final chapter of Rocky’s story, it’s a tremendously effective and delightful film. However, when I think of a Creed part x without Rocky, I feel violently indifferent.

    This is very much a first impression. I’ll definitely own the film, and God willing, I’ll watch it many more times, and I expect my views will evolve. I would guess that, if anything, I’ll come to like it even more as time goes on. Again, it’s a very solid Rocky film, just not sure the character has legs beyond that.

  21. Your criticisms actually sound like praise to me, Skani. I’m skeptical about Stallone’s attempts to go back to the well, especially when he’s already landed on a perfectly acceptable end point for a character, as he did with the last Rocky and Rambo movies, but I have to admit that it’s always a joy to watch him play Rocky and to see what new perspective age has brought to the merging of actor and character. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I should give a shit about Adonis Creed, though. You can beat that old “trying to get out from under the shadow of his famous father” horse all you want, but that particular trope is not borne out by history, which finds scores more sons and daughters of famous men and women finding it easier to get their foot in the door of their chosen industry than ones who are blackballed for having a well-known last name. Proving themselves once they get there is another thing entirely, but everyone has to do that, even/especially unknown quantities with no legacies to build on. So if you’re telling me that Adonis is really just a storytelling tool to get us to the next stage of Rocky’s life and career, well, that’s fine by me, because I never wanted to know the privileged motherfucker to begin with.

  22. It’s really impossible to treat a film like this one on it’s own terms. Comparisons to the other films are inevitable and in my opinion fair game. Not only that, but for a film that seems to be quite blatantly positioned as the start of a new franchise (or whatever you call this), it also invites speculation as to where the characters might be headed and how that will fare. So, I’ma speculate and compare.

    As Rocky 7, I totally am praising this film. Rocky Balboa was a fitting end to the saga, and I don’t think we needed another one, but we got one, and it’s pretty damn good, taking the character in fresh and satisfying directions. I like the way this film continues to explore part 6’s themes of aging and mortality. This one also gives us a much better iteration of the Rock-as-mentor concept than we’ve previously seen. Part 6 found Rocky restless and wounded, struggling to cope with middle age and feeling an urgent need for one last boxing match on his terms. He needed an outlet for his grief and midlife angst. In this one, it is abundantly clear that Rocky has aged quite a bit and won’t be engaging in any more boxing matches. So, it’s no longer a question of Rocky having a mid-life crisis or needing to prove he can still compete. This film is about how you find purpose, meaning, hope, and connection when you’re (SPOILER) literally everyone you love has died or left town; when you’ve just received your own personalized postcard from the grim reaper; when there’s no prospect of revisiting your athletic glory days. What’s left for you? Is there a reason to go on?

    Of course, Rocky was always as much about fighting symbolic and existential battles as literal ones–boxing was a physical metaphor and outlet for the struggle against the hardships and cruelty of life and the struggle to push back against your own physical and psychological limits. Boxing is a pure test of psychological and physical mettle. Seeing Rocky age and ail to a point where his own body and physical performance can no longer serve as that proving ground–where he can no longer literalize and physicalize the existential struggle to live with courage, hope, and purpose–that’s a very interesting place for Rocky to go, and I love the way this film explores aging, lonely Rocky. And that’s why this film works for me: I love spending time with this character about as much as I think Stallone does, and I love checking in with him from time to time. That’s why I loved Rocky Balboa, and for the same reasons, I think this film is at least as good as Rocky Balboa.

    Now, let’s shift from Rocky part 7 to Adonis Creed part 1. I like Adonis Creed well enough. He’s a cool, humble dude. (I like his girlfriend, too. She’s cool. An old soul.) Michael B. Jordan gives an interesting, solid, and assured performance. But Adonis Creed is a fairly one-dimensional character whose inner life is not the well-realized. As a result, he’s the least interesting of the three principals. I’m following his adventures not because I’m gripped by him as a character, but because he’s recapitulating the Rocky journey in a movie that is brimming over with Rocky’s presence and energy, spilling over into an overall warm fuzzy experience.

    What is Adonis’s struggle and motivation? It’s not really clear. A kind of unexplained free-floating restless anger. Where does this come from (his hard early childhood? being Apollo’s son: #eyeofthetigerblood)? Maybe. I never feel like I get to know him, and at times it’s not clear that there’s much to know. He’s just not as interesting or charismatic a character as a Rocky or Apollo, and he’s not as cartoonishly fun as a Paulie or Clubber or Drago. Any of those guys could chew the scenery all day, and I’d eat it up. Adonis Creed is interesting primarily because of the role he plays in a larger mythology that I’m deeply invested in, not because of anything unique or intriguing that he brings to the table as a character. As with his title shot in this film, Adonis Creed as a character is riding others’ coattails, propped up and able to succeed because he’s surrounded by an extremely robust and well-oiled narrative machine powered by an iconic character and a huge reserve of sentiment and goodwill. Michael B. Jordan can certainly carry a film, of that I have no doubt. But I have serious doubt as to whether the character of Adonis Creed can even begin to fill the gloves of Rocky Balboa. Only in the matrix of sentiment, mythology, and goodwill that the Rocky saga (its characters and their world) is Adonis able to shine, but it’s hard to see him carrying a film the way Rocky can.

    So, in summary: Very satisfying encore and final bow for Rocky Balboa. Beginning of a new, stand-alone series? Hard for me to see it.

  23. Just got back from CREED. I’ll show some restraint and wait till Vern posts his review but I can’t remember the last time a packed house unanimously applauded for a movie like this. Have to disagree with Skani on Adonis being one note though. As someone who was born in the 80’s like he was I actually found him very refreshingly authentic. He also reminded me a lot of Apollo (cocky, quick witted, determined and assured but still hiding insecurities etc.) but I’ll elaborate when the review is finally upon us.

  24. Glad you enjoyed it, Broddie. I’m definitely stoked to see a Rocky film taking the character to new places and connecting with fans and critics. In 2014, no less. As our old friend George Washington Duke would say, “Only in America.” Though I expect he would say the same thing upon retrieving french fries from the microwave, getting diagnosed with shingles, or pretty much anything else.

    Hopefully, my nitpicking and speculating about the future of the franchise doesn’t overshadow what is overall a very positive assessment of this film. More discussion to come, I’m sure. :)

  25. Also, it’s 2015. I get that. I was just testing you. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  26. Don’t worry it happens. I was gonna say if it’s any consolation it probably was filmed back in 2014 but I just read that the production began in January of this year. Nevertheless kudos for the Jon Lovitz reference.

  27. How did I never notice that the ending of Balboa, where Rocky leaves before the announcement, works as a meta-curtain call? To see characters that we grew to love over 30 years like Duke and Paulie turn to the audience one-by-one, to wave goodbye and take a bow before slipping behind the black curtain, leaving only Stallone at the end – I get chills thinking about it. (I think I only realized how powerful this scene was when I learned Duke and Paulie are not in Creed)

    It’s the best ending in the series, and the fact that the film itself is probably only my 4th or 5th favorite, says alot about how amazing this franchise is. This series, despite wild changes in story and tone, still manages to create an organic universe written with more care than any other franchise. Take Spider Rico, for instance – most movies today would be like “wink wink – that’s the guy he fought in the first one! Callback!” Stallone wisely uses Rico and the way Balboa treats him as world-building and character development for both of them. The other “callbacks” like Marie and the skating rink and the old bar don’t feel like cheap fan service, they feel like a natural progression of this story and character. (Stallone fortunately deleted that scene of Marie as a hooker in part V – he’s smart enough to know there’s more dramatic potential out of this character than just a cheap throwaway gag).

    I’ll be honest and say the first 3/4 of this movie don’t entirely work for me. The drama stuff just isn’t as well-done as the first 2 and I dunno, it had a few too many scenes of people awkwardly popping up at someone’s house/place of work and then not wanting to come inside and awkwardly leaving. But who cares – everything from the training montage to the end credits is a masterpiece. When the fight starts, it almost becomes like a found footage movie (found HBO footage I guess) – the approach is entirely engrossing and involving, and just hearing the real HBO commentator giddily say stuff like “I can’t believe I’m ringside at a Rocky Balboa fight!” really builds this world. The fight is expertly choreographed, shot, and written – Mason breaking his hand, giving Rock the opening he needs, is just genius. It’s storytelling-through-action at its best.

    This has been a great retrospective – thanks to Vern for getting the ball rolling and everyone else for their brilliant thoughts. Who knew this oft-ridiculed series would have this much to discuss, and this much richness in it? I seriously doubt we could sit here and discuss any other series this emotionally – certainly not the MCU or James Bond, probably not even Star Wars. I’m embarrassed that it took Creed coming out for me to rewatch the series and remember how good it is. Rocky is the undisputed champion of franchises for me.

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