Year 9, Day 8 - 1/8/17 - Movie #2,508
BEFORE: Sylvester Stallone carries over from "The Specialist", and here are my links for the rest of January, assuming I stay on track: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon, Anders Holm, Robert DeNiro, Jason Mantzoukas, and Alison Brie. That should take me right up close to Feb. 1, and from that you may even be able to figure out the next three weeks of movies, though some of those stars will stick around for three or four days, so then again, maybe you can't.
THE PLOT: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
AFTER: In just over 8 years of focusing on movies, I've watched an awful lot of boxing films (and a lot of awful boxing films, too) and most of them are trite affairs, where you just know the hero's going to win the final fight, good will beat evil, if either fighter can be defined as such, and the audience will leave happy, or at least satisfied. But that outcome's not assured in a "Rocky" film, remember that Rocky's goal in the first film wasn't even to win, it was just to go the distance. And then we saw Rocky win in the sequels, but also face a host of personal tragedies - so it seems like "going the distance" is an apt metaphor for the whole series.
There were 6 previous "Rocky" films, and if you count "Creed" as Episode 7, you may come to realize that the franchise faces the same problems as, say, "Star Wars: Episode 7" - how do you connect the new film to the past, while telling a new story? How do you entertain the fans who've been watching for decades, and also catch the attention of the newer generation? Bring in some new faces, but have them face some of the same problems, because everything is cyclical, right? Rey goes off to find Luke Skywalker, and Adonis Johnson seeks out his own mentor, Rocky.
That's right, Adonis Johnson, not Adonis Creed, at least not at first. Adonis never met his father, Apollo, because he was the child of an extramarital affair, but after bouncing around the foster care system for a few years, was adopted by Apollo's wife. It's very cagey to work this character into the story, in-between the things we knew about Apollo, Rocky's first major opponent and later best friend. So he both is and isn't a Creed, he tries to make his own way in the boxing world without relying on his father's name, but eventually the truth is revealed.
Rocky's aged out of the boxing world (as has Stallone), and is happy just running his restaurant (Adrian's) until Adonis, or "Donnie", tracks him down. He's unwilling at first to slip into the "Mickey" trainer role, but since he's lost nearly everyone in his life, and his son has moved to Vancouver, he comes to view Donnie as something akin to his last bit of close family. No spoilers here, but they did give Rocky his own battles to fight in the process of training this young boxer. Balboa's training methods are a mix of the stereotypical and the unorthodox, but I'm surprised they didn't give a callback to the famous shot of sparring with those big sides of beef in a meat locker.
I usually complain that a boxing film doesn't focus enough on technique, explaining it properly and making it accessible to viewers like myself. I think this film did explain a lot, usually with Rocky giving tips to Creed based on past fights he remembers - I can't say I always understood them, but I appreciate the effort. And there's also plenty of good drama here, with Adonis struggling to deal with both his father's legacy, and feeling inadequate because of his illegitimacy.
There's a contrivance that gives the young Adonis a shot at the title, against "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, but time and time again, the "Rocky" films are about these sort of contrived match-ups. It's pretty amazing that they didn't take things a step further, and put him in the ring against Ivan Drago's son - maybe they're saving that for "Creed II". The only other thing that I think was missing here was a cool name for the London-based fight, something akin to "The Thrilla in Manila" or "The Fracas in Caracas" - I'm not sure what that should have been, maybe "The Melée in the U.K." or "The Duel in Liverpool"? Come on, guys, work with me here...
Also starring Michael B. Jordan (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish (last seen in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), Andre Ward, Wood Harris, Jacob "Stitch" Duran, with cameos from Michael Buffer (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Jim Lampley (ditto), Hannah Storm, Tony Kornheiser and the voice of Liev Schreiber (last seen in "Jakob the Liar").
RATING: 6 out of 10 Philly cheesesteaks