Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, and (against all odds, as it should be) Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa
Have I Seen it Before: Man, I was there opening weekend.
Did I Like It: What a stupid idea for a movie, and yet it was executed flawlessly.
As the end credits for Rocky Balboa (2006) begin, a feeling always came over me. This is it. This is the end. It was great while it lasted, Rock. Thanks for coming back one last time.
And here we are, again. And man am I glad.
Just to pitch the idea for a seventh Rocky movie takes a certain amount of bravery-to-the-point of insanity, to then turn around and make such a vital, necessary film is an act of subtle, but superlative genius. To wit, this moment that I may be paraphrasing:
Why do you want to be a singer?
It makes me feel alive.
ADONIS says nothing, smiles slightly.
That is amazing. New and fresh and interesting and incisive like a blade.
And yet, it is Rocky through and through. The film is so steeped in the mythology of the previous entries in the series. The whole movie wouldn’t exist without Rocky IV (1985). Rocky would be a completely different character without Rocky V (1990) and Rocky Balboa (2006). Ever wonder who won the top secret fight at the end of Rocky III (1982), well this movie has your answer. Coogler and company love making a great movie, but they love every Rocky just as much. These movies have a format, but when the inevitable third act training montage comes barreling down the tracks, even it is born again, without ever being ashamed of its roots.
When the book on the greatest directors of all time is finished, Ryan Coogler will get his own chapter, and Black Panther (2018) is only a piece of that.
As sharp as Coogler’s choices are, he would be nowhere without his cast. Michael B. Jordan cements himself as a bona fide movie star while still channeling Carl Weathers just enough. Tessa Thompson is such a fabulous actress, with a naturalistic chameleon quality that I only just now realized she is the same actress from Thor: Ragnarok (2017). And then there is Stallone. Frankly, he deserved the Oscar for this round as Rocky. He so thoroughly abandons any sense of ego he might have once had—and his self-image in the 80s was undeniable—to play a Rocky laid low, but still resolute. That there is more Rocky to explore is staggering.
Just as an aside, a weird moment that I hadn’t fully digested in previous viewings: The moment where Adonis (Jordan) does an impression of Brando from The Godfather (1972). Which leads me to this strange question: In the Rockyverse do both Adrian Balboa and the actress Talia Shire exist? Maybe Creed II (2018) will finally shed some light on that. Maybe it’ll take several more movies before we get that answer. That suits me just fine. Keep ‘em coming, Rock.