The underdog success of the original Rocky film in 1976 was one of those wonderful moments where art imitated life – struggling actor Sylvester Stallone started from the very bottom to get his script made into a film, working against what seemed like a rigged system and eventually triumphing and becoming a major international star in the process. This was all mirrored in the story of his breakthrough film itself, which almost immediately became a template for that kind of movie, including its own increasingly absurd sequels (although Rocky II is worth a look – ludicrous ending aside, it’s almost as good as the first one). After it seemed like the series had run its course, Stallone resurrected it with surprising success in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, and now (against the odds once again, much like the ongoing character) we’re faced with yet another return to the old well, with what is essentially the seventh instalment of the franchise.

The biggest surprise is that this not only works, but it’s the best film in the series since the original, and this is due to some much-needed changes in personnel. Given that its star cannot realistically be expected to portray a competitive boxer any more (Stallone was 69 years old at the time of release), it makes sense to opt for a narrative of the reins being passed on to another generation, which allows for a fresh intake of characters and relationships, with Michael B Jordan playing the son of Rocky’s onetime nemesis and eventual close friend Apollo Creed. Directing duties are also picked up by Ryan Coogler (who impressed so much with his debut feature Fruitvale Station), and the shift in ethnicity of the main players provides a stronger element of diversity in the series than ever before.

Ultimately though, there really is only a limited number of times you can tell what is essentially the same story. Although much effort is made to update the franchise and inject new blood, this is still a narrative in thrall to the same arcs and devices that its predecessors have used. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does mean that familiarity and cliche are present as much as any originality or innovation. But sometimes the old classics get played for good reasons, and you’d need a heart of stone not to get swept up in the same rush of adrenaline that comes from rooting for the little guy, and to not be effected by perhaps the film’s biggest surprise – a completely brilliant supporting performance from Sylvester Stallone himself that works so well because it’s not acting: it’s an old titan winding down towards the end, still showing flashes of brilliance as the final round approaches.

The best film in the entire series since the original8
Handing the story over to a younger generation, both in front of and behind the camera8
A shift towards a more diverse cast ethnicity8
It's still essentially the same old familiar story however6
Sylvester Stallone's performance is the finest in his entire career9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The named female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They only talk about men
8Overall Score

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