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“Creed” brings Rocky films to new generation

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It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t seen the classic film “Rocky.” The film is an American classic. It holds a premier place in American pop culture, with references to the film often thrown about in everyday discourse. “Rocky” is arguably one of the reasons the sport of boxing remains popular, despite the film’s overly romanticized plot. Even the sequels to the 1976 original have a special place in the hearts of Americans, with many of Rocky’s opponents going down in history as some of the greatest villains in the history of the western world. Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa’s Soviet opponent in the 1985 sequel “Rocky IV,” is hands down the second most evil villain of all time, coming in close behind the Icelandic National Hockey team in “The Mighty Ducks 2.”

Despite the earlier success of the Rocky franchise, the last two installments, “Rocky V” and “Rocky Balboa,” were failures. The films were too cliché and pushed too hard to capture the essence of the first four “Rocky” films. It was no surprise that many critics were surprised when director Ryan Coogler announced plans for a movie entitled “Creed,” which focuses on the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s opponent in both the original “Rocky” and its direct sequel “Rocky II.” With the last two films floundering at the box office, there was no doubt that “Creed” was in the perfect position to fail, yet the film defied these odds in a way entirely unique from the original films.

The old magic is still there, but Coogler’s choice to focus on the legacy of Apollo Creed as opposed to Rocky Balboa is what allows the film to flourish independent of its predecessors. Michael B. Jordan, starring as Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, has certainly set himself up to be the next face of the franchise. Jordan’s attitude and demeanor create a character with as much charisma and personality as Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa without attempting to become an exact copy of either Creed or the Italian Stallion.

Despite Jordan starring as the main character, Sylvester Stallone nearly steals the movie as a sad, washed-up Rocky Balboa. Stallone, whose acting in the original films didn’t necessarily require the most refinement, impressed critics with his nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of the broken-down ex-fighter. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in this year’s Oscars. It was quite moving to see his character, originally full of pride and fighting spirit, in the position of a mentor rather than a pugilist. This reversal of roles allows Jordan’s character to flourish in a movie series that created one of America’s most beloved characters.

Many critics felt that Jordan should have been nominated for Best Actor. There was much controversy, especially considering the racial issues swirling around the Oscar selection process, but the push for Jordan to be nominated was a bit far-fetched. The acting from both Stallone and Jordan was good for a sports film, but it is hard even to say that Stallone should have been up for an award. The two are dynamic in a film that requires nothing less, but neither of the performances deserve to go down in Oscar history.

Either way, “Creed” has certainly set itself up to continue a franchise that has captured the attention and dreams of Americans for decades. Fans have plenty of reason to hope that “Creed 2”, which is set to hit theaters sometime in 2017, will live up to these expectations.

hatzky@stolaf.edu