How often does a franchise include seven films? How often are any of them up to the quality of the original that launched the franchise in the first place? The 1976 surprise hit Rocky was nominated for ten Academy Awards and took Best Picture, Best Director (for John G. Avildson), and Best Editing. In every way Rocky Balboa and Sylvester Stallone have been synonymous ever since. Stallone was nominated for his original screenplay and for best actor. Rocky is the story of an underdog, and Stallone was the mirror of Rocky in real life, proving himself to the world as a wannabe A-list movie star. As the franchise continued, Stallone became an international megastar, with movies like Rambo. Many argue the sequel to Rocky, simply titled Rocky II, is akin to the Godfather 2 or Superman 2, an example of Hollywood crafting a truly worthy sequel. From there critics and audiences diverge: Was Rocky vs. Dolph Lundgren as Drago in Rocky IV up to the adrenaline rush of the boxing rounds in the earlier films? Where does Rocky III fit in? The latest entry in the Rocky series, the reboot and eighth film in the series, Creed, is now streaming on Amazon Prime. If you are looking for an inspirational, feel-good movie, it should be the next movie on your list.
What seems to be unanimous is a drop in quality and excitement beset Rocky V and the sixth film Rocky Balboa. So when Creed was released at the end of 2015, who could have guessed it could be on par with the original? The odds were against its success, much like the character of Adonis “Hollywood” Johnson, the son of the late Apollo Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan in the film. Director Ryan Coogler, born ten years after the original Rocky film, grew up with Stallone’s boxer already part of the national psyche, along with other motivational sports films like Rocky director Avildson’s other unforgettable classic, The Karate Kid. Coogler draws from that film’s sensei Mr. Miyagi in one particularly well played training sequence between Stallone and Jordan. Stallone has played sensei before in the series, but only now, with the actor a real-life wise, elder thespian, does he provide a performance that in some parallel universe garnered him not only an Oscar nomination but a win (Stallone was only the sixth actor twice nomination for playing the same character). The young Jordan is equally superb, holding back when others may take obvious choices with a hot-headed fighter. Coogler’s subtlety is the stuff of great filmmaking, such as editing in musical cues from the original Rocky like a whisper throughout the film, only to release the full weight of Bill Conti’s goosebump inducing theme when it meant the most.
But how can Creed be as good as the original?