Release Date: November 25, 2015
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, Sylvester Stallone (characters)
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tess Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran, Graham McTavish, Malik Bazille, Ricardo McGill, Gabe Rosado, Wood Harris, Buddy Osborn, Rupal Pujara, Brian Anthony Wilson, Joey Eye, Johanna Tolentino, Anthony Brice, Kash Goins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 132 minutes
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Warner Bros, New Line Cinema, Chartoff-Winkler Productions
Genre: Drama, Sport
Budget: $35,000,000 (estimated)
As great as the first five Rocky films were, I could understand you thinking another sequel to that franchise would be overkill. It would be an interesting debate, given their non-realistic boxing matches, over the top campiness, yet they still contained deep entertaining highly motivating themes. Fortunately this isn’t a Rocky sequel, but a start to a new franchise in the Rocky universe that stands remotely on its own. With fear that this film would rely on connective tissue from the past, Michael B. Jordan gives a stand up performance, that’s miles beyond what you could ask for. He’s becoming one of my favorite actors in Hollywood, from his wide range of talent as a chameleon, with tons of charisma on screen. This man is unstoppable, and shows no signs of slowing down. With him teaming up with director Ryan Coogler (Fruitville Station) again, their pairing couldn’t have been any better, and lays the ground work for what the next generation of up and coming actors should aim for.
This film shoots off like a rocket, and doesn’t slow down for a while. With intriguing questions raised from the trailers, they’re immediately answered, and are served hot to set up the pacing. A great feeling comes over you, as you’re instantly aware you’re in good hands. Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has all the bravado of his late father (Apollo Creed), but a humbleness to him you that you admire. He has a chip on his shoulder that’s understood, but he doesn’t let it keep him down. He’s hungry for success on a mission that he’s destined to overcome. Within the blink of an eye you’re in his corner, cheering him on throughout the film. He’s a true underdog that’s inspiring, even though he walks a thin dangerous line. He’s occasionally gets cocky, but not too often to trip him up. I loved the way he learned from his mistakes, which kept him close to the ground.
His relationship with everyone ties the whole film together. The love he has for his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) was heartfelt and true. Her role was brief, but enough to leave a lasting mark. Between him and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is what stole the show. Rocky took on more of a loving uncle which had a strong impact. He had his back in the ring, but even more outside in the streets. The chemistry between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) was extremely romantic. They felt like a real world couple, with the same complicated concerns as anyone else would. She was no flimsy harlet that was just after fortune and fame. She just wanted honesty in a man, and someone to be proud of. Her amount of screen time was perfect for the story Coogler was trying to tell, and served necessary for the final confrontation.
Given the circumstances of the past films, the story being told couldn’t have been written any better. While the execution may have missed a step once or twice, the overall arc was more than you bargained for. Adonis has a dark hole that he’s trying to fill, and it’s obvious from his past environment. It’s the journey everyone takes in life, which is to find purpose in one’s existence, and this is what drives him forward. It wasn’t shoved down our throats, and steadily made its climb throughout the film. In the end, the payoff was there reaching nearly all of my expectations, and left me feeling good inside.
By far the best portion of the film is the acting, tied in with the boxing, and the display of character profiles. When Adonis takes his first real match in the ring, it feels like you’re on the other side of the ropes with him. At times it actually felt as if I was actually in a real arena seeing two muscle heads duke it out. His first match was the best scene in the film. I’m not sure if it was movie magic, or if it was all done in one shot, but it blew me away off the edge of my seat, as if I had money invested in the outcome. The intensity of every blow to the face hit hard, but was slightly over the top. I was still smiling ear to ear as each punch landed, with sweat spewing left and right. The antagonist ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) also posed a worthy threat as well. He was a great trash talker that really elevated the stakes when necessary.
While the film was on a perfect ride, it slowed down too much to catch its breath. I thought the first act was masterful, but towards the middle not so much. It wasn’t bad to say the least, but didn’t have the strongest pounding as before. Imagine going one-hundred twenty on a speed bike, then abruptly switching to a chopper at the drop of a dime. Not a bad ride at all, just not what you had before, but it’s still enough to keep you guessing, and also begging for more. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca was great, but I thought their introduction was a little forced. Though their chemistry together made it a quick after thought, especially with her being so supportive.
It’s a tall order for this film to be a successful hit. Director Ryan Coogler had to take a franchise that nearly everyone knew, not giving us the same story. While still delivering something fresh, and simultaneously paying respect to its predecessor. Expectations were through the roof, and this genius Coogler pulled it off. I was worried that it would be a carbon copy of the past, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It did pay its respects, without dishing out the same, on top of leaving room for more. If another sequel is announced, I’ll be jumping up for joy. From start to end the characters stand out as if we never knew them before, and it would be a pleasure to be in their presence again.