Posts tagged Apollo Creed
Teflon Don: a tribute to Rocky Balboa

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”

Sylvester Stallone announced on Instagram last week that he’s “retiring” his iconic Rocky Balboa character. Whether or not that holds true - it is Hollywood so you never know - this feels like the perfect time to take a moment to appreciate everything the character’s given us & to celebrate the most underrated fact about him: Rocky Balboa was Teflon.

Stallone created the iconic fighter in 1976, loosely based on real-life boxer Charles Wepner, who was a clear underdog against then-heavyweight champ Muhammed Ali in 1975 who managed to almost go the distance before losing by TKO in the 15th round. Much like Wepner, Rocky was an underdog who got a shot at the title & stunned the world by not eating shit in the first round, then stunned the world again by not eating shit at all. He was an awkward southpaw you didn’t wanna step up to.

The critical & commercial success of the first film spawned five sequels as well as two spinoffs. While the critical success trended downward with each sequel, returning to a peak for the sixth installment, Rocky Balboa (which remains the second-highest rated in the main series), the commercial success never wavered. No film bearing the name “Rocky” in its title ever failed to, at least, double its production budget at the worldwide box office. Audiences stood by Rocky; no matter how inconceivable the scenarios were, they flocked to see him overcome his next challenge. Teflon!

Those numbers are just half the story; they have to be put in context, measured against the reality that after Rocky III, the plots to the sequels became increasingly inane. In Rocky IV, the Italian Stallion went toe-to-toe with Russia’s laboratory created, boxing version of Frankenstein’s monster, Ivan Drago. The fight, born out of revenge following Drago beating Rocky’s good friend Apollo Creed to death in an exhibition match, saw Rocky train in the wintry mountains of Russia before going 15 rounds with his steroid-infused nemesis, flooring him just seconds before the final bell rang. That’s before even mentioning his post-victory speech that gained applause from the Russian General Secretary, effectively ending the Cold War!

In Rocky V, Rock is broke, suffering from permanent brain damage, is a lousy parent & engages in good old fashioned street fisticuffs against a kid he tried to live vicariously through. It’s a ludicrous premise, its execution is flawed but, again, it didn’t matter. Then came Rocky Balboa (arguably the best main series sequel), which saw an older Rocky, mourning the loss of his wife, trying to maintain a relationship with his son all while attempting to find his way in a world he felt no longer had a place for him. It works so well as a rumination on the perils of getting old that you almost don’t think about the fact that a man in his late fifties with permanent brain damage fighting a man decades younger than him and not dying is about as likely as Ben Simmons hitting a three this season. More importantly, it made you look past the fact that the black boxer he was fighting was named Mason “The Line” Dixon. They basically named him Mason Dixon Line. Rocky Balboa named the antagonist of the film after the line used to separate slave states from non slave states and NOBODY CARED!

Therein lies the true success of Rocky Balboa, the man. It didn’t really matter what the story was. We were there for him. From his guttural screams of “Adrian”, to when he beat the 10 count Apollo couldn’t, at the iconic freeze frame ending, to when Drago said “if he dies, he dies”, all the way until he tells his son “it ain’t about how hard you hit”, we came back for him. We hung on to a character who was a testament to perseverance. An underdog to a champ. A man who loved as hard as he fought & who we want nothing more than to see happy. A character that Sylvester Stallone played better every time out with his last few appearance being top notch. If his final moment in CREED 2 is, in fact, the last time we see the legend on screen then we couldn’t have asked Stallone for a better performance. A man who was resilient but afraid, wise but still flawed &, when it was all done, he made amends with the family he has left in a subtly, beautiful scene.

A tip of that patented fedora to you, Rock, you did it.

FILM REVIEW: CREED II doubles down on nostalgia & leaves you caring more for the past than the present

UPDATE: 12:39PM

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

“It’s your time now”

As Adonis Creed beckons towards Rocky Balboa to join him in the ring following the former’s victory over Viktor Drago, Rocky offers him a simple fist bump & those words. The camera pauses on a wide shot of their arms outstretched & linked at the fist before cutting to a close-up of Adonis. He looks a bit taken aback but turns to the ring, the crowd celebrating him, & embraces his moment. The camera follows him as he’s handed his belt and walks out of the ring hand-in-hand with Bianca up the tunnel. Rocky Balboa doesn’t appear in this scene again. The future unequivocally belongs to Adonis Creed.

CREED 2 took a different approach than its predecessor. After nailing that impactful line (fun fact: a line Sylvester Stallone improvised, according to director Steven Caple Jr.), Rocky walks over to a ringside chair and takes a seat. The camera follows him, positioned steadily behind him, the ring & everything happening in it in front of him but out of focus. We see Creed’s jubilance at his triumph over his demons through Rocky’s point of view. We don’t get to experience his joy in the ringl instead we’re left with the aged legend who has finally passed the torch. It’s a somber moment, but a beautiful shot that highlights the biggest problem I had walking away from CREED 2...

I still care more about Rocky Balboa than Adonis Creed.

Nostalgia is an extremely powerful tool. Humanity loves looking back to feeling the way we felt before, or at the very least, the way we believe we felt. It was used to perfection in 2015’s CREED. Watching the older Rocky train & take care of the illegitimate child of his close friend and former arch-enemy while he walked a similar path was appropriately affecting. There were familiar beats but more than enough originality for it to feel like it’s own piece.

The sequel doubled down on that nostalgia, tying Rocky’s own past directly to Adonis’ present. The end result is a movie that belongs just as much to the former as it does the latter, in spite of the latter being the titular character. In the end, Rocky reconnects with his estranged son & meets his grandson while Adonis visits the grave of his deceased father, Apollo, & introduces him to his grandchild. Rocky’s soft spoken meeting with the only family he has left produced a small lump in my throat. Adonis’ cathartic visit to the father he never knew left me shrugging.

So we circle back to that post-match moment. That ringside fist bump. The man sitting in a chair, outside looking in. The camera resting behind him. We’re invited fully into the perspective of Rocky Balboa, engulfed completely by his somber uncertainty. We’re left as spectators to Adonis Creed’s happiness, his victory over the ties that bound him to his past. The camera is the audiences’ portal into their world. Its positioning is ours as well. It controls what we see, & what we see controls what we feel. To the right, it would’ve shown us unbridled joy. To the left was quiet doubt. The powers that be took the camera left and that seemingly small choice made all the difference.

“It’s your time now”

After watching the moment that followed, what should have been a passing-of-the-torch line, I can’t help but ask; is it?

UPDATE: Well... it may be. Earlier this week Sylvester Stallone announced on Instagram that he’s officially retiring the Rocky Balboa character. While it's a great move for the franchise, it doesn't sit well with me that the character will either be relegated to an off-screen death or passing mentions about his whereabouts in the next film. It’ll most likely be the former because it’s the only reason a prominent father figure in Adonis’ life & career is suddenly no longer around, but the latter would leave audiences questioning why he doesn’t reach out to his mentor.

Time will tell how this all plays out, but if CREED 2 is the end of Rocky & Adonis' relationship, then it ends with Rocky Balboa acting as a plot device in two films before being unceremoniously disregarded as if he were never that important to begin with.

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