Directed by Ryan Coogler
This is an odd film. Which isn’t to say it’s not good. It’s very, very good. Possibly even great. But it’s rare that a movie seems to exist within the Hollywood studio system yet also feel very much like an indie…ESPECIALLY when it belongs to the canon of such an iconic Hollywood franchise. It has all the emotion and testosterone of previous Rocky films, but the scene-work feels as incredibly intimate as in Coogler’s previous film,”Fruitvale Station”. As such, there is absolutely no reason not to see it!
The script is extremely satisfying and eschews much of the machismo of boxing flicks. Instead we get an inside look at how aging in the shadow of celebrity takes its toll – both from former champ, Rocky Balboa, and the son of an even bigger champion (Apollo Creed), Adonis Johnson. Using these inner struggles as the main focus keeps the film from becoming another by-the-numbers sports movie, much like the “Friday Night Lights” television series wasn’t so much a show about football as it was about characters living in a world where football is paramount. Boxing is their world, but its not their story. A subtle difference, but a very important one.
We already know Michael B. Jordan is one of our next great actors, and here he is everything we could hope for. Sensitive without playing sensitive. Macho without having to act macho. And very, very human. Tessa Thompson is multi-layered in her performance as his love interest/foil (although I found her character to be a little underwritten). But the revelation is Sly. This is “Copland” Stallone. The one who, for some reason, hides his incredible acting chops behind movies like “The Expendables”, “Escape Plan” and, in earlier days, the “Rambo” films. You find yourself wishing we could’ve seen this Rocky Balboa in the previous six(!) films. Maybe we saw a little of it in the first…but certainly never since.
As for direction, with the exception of two incredibly corny moments of over-direction (and a couple moments right after the big fight that are simply not believable), Coogler masterfully keeps the suspense and the sentiment in the forefront throughout. He does this while also giving us the spectacle of the ring we’ve grown accustomed to from the previous “Rocky” films. His one-shot of a boxing match is just incredible…only word for it.
Interesting score. Ludwig Goransson had the unenviable task of simultaneously using Bill Conti’s themes, creating music to fit a different kind of film AND write songs for Thompson’s character who is, herself, a budding R&B composer. For the most part he succeeds, but if you know Morricone’s score from “Duck, You Sucker,” you’ll recognize a lot of themes. There are much worse people to rip off than Ennio, I suppose, but it was joltingly obvious for me. I should probably listen to movie music less often. They steal from each other more often than Carlos Mencia steals jokes.
Overall, a wonderful film and a tremendous addition…or even coda…to the Rocky series.
This trailer beautifully conveys the various elements mentioned above. We don’t critique trailers enough, but this one is pretty great…