By now everyone will know that this film is a new and second generation addition to the Rocky franchise, which is big shoes to fill for lead actor Michael B. Jordan but is helped by his supporting Actor and Rocky Balboa himself Sylvester Stallone. Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his father Apollo Creed but when he decides to take on fighting full time and enlists the help of Rocky (Stallone), he’s forced to acknowledge his father’s legacy, while trying to build one of his own.
Jordan will be familiar for his roles in Fantastic Four, Fruitvale Station (also directed by Ryan Coogler), That Awkward Moment or his breakout film Chronicle, but he hasn’t quite established himself as a fixture of young Hollywood just yet, which is exactly what this film had the potential to do. The problem with Jordan’s performance is he spends most of the film trying too hard, and coming off sulky and brooding, he has his moments but in what could have been a monumental film due to the franchise basis, it doesn’t quite hit the right note. Jordan has the right fit and look for this film but ultimately doesn’t pull it off with his slightly off point performance. Stallone on the other hand has been revered for his performance, getting a standing ovation for his Golden Globe win and then winning again at the Critics Choice Awards, personally I can see why but at the same time I believe it’s one performance as a culmination of a life’s work, it is not one unbelievable performance, simply a satisfying change of roles from star to trainer which I can say definitely is not worth an Oscar. The surprise for me was Phylicia Rashad and the small amount of screen time that she receives as Adonis’ step-mother, Mary Anne, which given more of a central role she could have easily been in line for some supporting actress nominations and possibly wins.
I’d also say that though I do like Tessa Thompson as Bianca because there’s a little more to her than your usual average protagonist’s girlfriend but as the film goes on she seems to turn into the cliche rather than holding her own, becoming just one of the support staff for the main star, a cheerleader of sorts, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to know more about her character, to strengthen the story. Also if films could please not get into the habit of using pro fighters as actors, Tony Bellew may be a fan favourite and a plus for fighting fans watching the film, but he is an awful actor. Having all the realistic boxing scenes in the world does not make up for having an unworthy actor taking a role in a film like this, unless he’s restricted to only appear in scenes in the ring, which sadly he wasn’t in this instance, but it does show you exactly what audience this film is aiming at, and that is not everyone.
Director Ryan Coogler found himself at the head of a Rocky film and it being only his second feature, which was a risky choice and I’m not sure it pays off. The script for this film is definitely lacking in depth, it is attempted but there feels like a fairly minimal connection between the principal actors which is worsened by the lack of good material for dialogue. It doesn’t have that feel you get from a really great sports film, the team spirit and integral inspiration and motivation are slightly missing; too little time is spent on why Adonis wants to fight, some brief footage of juvenile detention and the knowledge of his parents premature deaths but that’s the sum of effort into building his story. It’s a sincere lack of foundation to build a story on, when the story itself is of a decent caliber but joint with an imperfect performance, makes this film miss its mark. His direction style may be called flashy by some, but it lacks focus and his take on the famous training montage was simply not well enough put together, which is what should have been an important turning point.
It’s quite possible that part of the disappointment for this film can come from the all-spoiling device these days that is hype, hearing such great things about a film before you actually see it can be a kiss of death and simply cause it to be a let down. Nonetheless, the other aspect is the actual downfalls of the film, it is far from the best that it could be but it’s also not the worst Rocky film out there. With more experience and work both Jordan and Coogler will both do great things, the former whose next project is currently unknown at time of writing and the latter tackling the Black Panther installment for Marvel. The film does its best and does honour the Rocky legacy but as a stand alone film it leaves a lot to desired.
(Side note: Another irritating factor is the lack of attention to detail claiming you could fit 100,000 people into Everton’s stadium, not even close with a 40,000 capacity but assumedly they don’t think any audience member would question that)