If you’re going to make a boxing movie, why not
use the template of one that scored a knockout? That was Ryan Coogler’s concept
in pitching a second-generation Rocky
movie to Sylvester Stallone, and it works…with Coogler’s Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky
Balboa’s onetime opponent, Apollo Creed. A troubled kid who’s always fighting,
he is taken in by a kindly woman who turns out to be Apollo’s wife (Phylicia
Rashad). She raises him well, but when he reaches adulthood he decides that it’s
time to follow his destiny and enter the boxing ring, using a pseudonym.
Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are no shocks or giant surprises in
this narrative—except for the way the director presents his hero’s first major
bout, as one long, unbroken shot. No one has ever done this before, perhaps
because CGI didn’t exist when Robert Rossen filmed Body and Soul and Martin Scorsese made Raging Bull. It’s a hell of sequence.
tremendous commitment to his character—enduring physical demands that not every
actor would take on—and works well with his fatherly costar, as well as his
striking love interest, played by Tessa Thompson, who scored such a success in Dear White People last year.
Stallone, he is clearly in his element and makes the most of every scene,
playing the character that made him a household name almost forty years ago and
earned him a pair of Oscar nominations, as actor and writer. He doesn’t dodge
the concept of aging and, not so incidentally, looks terrific.
last Rocky sequels, which seemed to
be running out of steam (and ideas) this one seems fresh, despite its formulaic
nature, and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Will you hear strains of Bill
Conti’s Rocky theme? Will the former
champ climb the fabled City Hall steps in Philadelphia? Have no doubt. This
movie gives audiences, young and old, exactly what they expect.