The Retro Appeal Of Rocky
- by Chris Watson, 3 February 2016
The summer of 2015 looked very much like it would mark the end of the Rocky film franchise, in some respects. A sequel called Creed was on the way, and the focus was to transfer from Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of former Rocky rival and friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). It looked unmistakably like a passing of the torch, perhaps to a new successful franchise with roots in Rocky but no longer using Stallone as the protagonist.
In a way, that's exactly what we got. Creed was very much a passing of the torch movie, and one in which Michael B. Jordan was certainly compelling enough to establish himself as our new boxing hero. Jordan showed a healthy respect for the franchise in portraying Johnson's conflicted feelings toward the father he never knew and appreciation for Rocky, without sacrificing the need to develop himself as a strong character in his own right. There's no doubt whatsoever that Creed can become a successful series with Jordan starring and director Ryan Coogler leading the way.
However, the build-up and response to Creed also served to remind us of just how much retro appeal there is to a fictional sports hero that captured the imagination of a nation 40 years ago. This is perhaps most evident in the fact that as wonderful as Jordan was, Stallone is rightfully earning the most attention from the film. He won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category (in which many consider him the favorite). Stallone's powerful and emotional portrayal of an aging Rocky resonated with audiences in a major way. It was inspiring, happy, sad, nostalgic, and not unlike a reunion with a long-lost friend.
Ultimately, it perhaps shouldn't have been such a surprise that it was the Rocky character who stole the show even in a movie called Creed and designed to take us in a new direction. Even in the hype cycle that led up to the film's release, it was Rocky who was brought back into focus for film fans, as there simply wasn't an Adonis Johnson to talk about yet.
This was evidenced in part by the side entertainment material produced in the lead-up to the film's release. Almost exactly a year before Creed hit theaters, NECA released a collectible Rocky figure in the oldest and most iconic image of the character: a humble, grey sweatsuit with taped up hands and a black skullcap. The character looks ready to go out and run the streets of Philadelphia, calling to mind the sequences that still define this 40-year franchise. Similarly, a Rocky game featured at arcade and casino platforms made use not of a new character nor an aged Rocky on its cover, but rather a shot of a young Stallone in his prime. The game takes players through the older history of Rocky, with bonus features that include title matches between Rocky and his nemeses (Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago). Both of these examples —an action figure and a game— invoked the past, despite the forward-looking nature of Creed.
Similarly, a wonderful documentary by EPIX, produced alongside Creed (and titled From Rocky To Creed: The Legacy Continues) sought to connect the film directly to the same old Rocky films that still supply the primary images and memories associated with the series. The documentary was narrated by Jordan and Stallone, as well as some of the filmmakers, in a clever maneuver to connect the two and lend Jordan and the new film some of the weight of the existing franchise.
That would be a surprising move indeed, but in the end it's really just another example of the fact that we can't seem to escape the appeal of Rocky as we knew him so many years ago. To his credit, Michael B. Jordan brought new life and energy to this series and created a character we'd all happily follow for another 30 years. But for the time being, this whole thing remains all about Rocky.
It's the 40th anniversary of the Rocky franchise this year. How do you feel about the direction it's taken? Let us know in the comments!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Watson is a freelance writer and aspiring film critic. His writing covers all aspects of pop culture and entertainment.
Tagged: movies & TV.