“Everything’s a sequel or a remake. Nothing original ever gets made anymore.”
You’ve said it. Your brother/sister/husband/wife/step-uncle/mechanic/talking-dog-that’s-an-affront-to-God has probably said it. Hell, I whisper it in my wife’s ear, in a Vincent Price voice, while she sleeps; just in case it’ll reverse-incept her into never watching the House of Wax remake again.
But really, even if everything that came out was a sequel or a remake (it’s not. In fact, it’s never been easier to produce and distribute your own media. Making money off of it? That’s never been easy. It’s not like pre-2006 Hollywood was a giant artist co-op that took chances willy-nilly.) So what? I’ll agree that an awful lot of remakes lately have been at best unnecessary, and at worst outright abominations. But why do sequels catch such nerd rage? Sure, some of them are pretty shitty. Then again, not every original property is fucking North-by-Northwest.
And here’s the thing about sequels: sometimes they’re great. Rocky III, Aliens, Toy Story 3, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, A Better Tomorrow 2 Superman 2, Ghost Protocol, Supercop, Evil Dead 2, Goldfinger, and Sanjuro are all good-to-great sequels, with a few of them arguably as good, if not better than the original. Then you have Godfather, Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, The Road Warrior, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and (sorta) Once Upon a Time in the West which are not only great sequels, but examples of some of the finest things ever committed to film.
Oh, and there’s also Bride of Frankenstein, which people smarter than me have argued is not only the best horror movie ever made, but one of the best movies ever made.
So, hopefully that’s a strong enough case that we can all stop waving our pitchforks and shovels for a minute, and talk about why Creed is so important.
A young black writer/director and a young black star get the reigns of an venerable, money making juggernaut formerly directed by, and starring one of two white people. We’re talking about a franchise that doesn’t have a single movie out of six that didn’t break 100 million worldwide, unadjusted for inflation. Knowing how risk-averse studios can be, I can’t express how excited I am to see this happen. Not only are Coogler (director) and Jordan (actor) super-talented, which we’ll get to next; but the fact that we’re going in this direction instead of either a flat-out reboot, or some kind of continuity-twisted Robert Balboa-walking-in-his-father’s footsteps story is astounding. The closest I think we’ve come to this was Tarantino talking about a Kill Bill sequel where the daughter of Black Mamba hunts down the Bride, but that doesn’t look like it’ll ever happen, and he wouldn’t be turning the reigns over if it did.
If this works, it could be the vanguard for a wave of risk-taking sequels. Like a Rian Johnson-directed Star Wars movie featuring Donnie Yen. Oh, wait.
A director-driven Rocky movie. Rocky and Rocky (ugh) V were both directed by John Avildsen. The other four were directed by Stallone, who also wrote all six. Now, Avildsen is a perfectly serviceable director, with as many “Best Director” Academy Awards as Scorcese, Coppola, and Soderbergh. Plus he’s a recipient of the Molehole “Stickin’ it out Award” for directing Karate Kid, Part II and Karate Kid Part III. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in his filmography that really screams “director piece,” and that’s a shame, because it makes him seem like he has no discernible style. Stallone has directed eight movies. Rocky III is great, and I like Rocky Balboa and Rambo a lot, but the direction in any of them isn’t anything terribly special. He also directed The Expendables, which if you don’t judge it by the camera work, or the performances, is sort of OK, I guess.
Ryan Coogler, on the other hand, is a twenty-nine year old writer director that knocked it out of the park in his first time up with Fruitvale Station. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and start your Bride of Frankenstein/Fruitvale Station double-feature now, you weirdo.
Back? Good. Anyway, I can’t imagine Coogler getting both the writing and directing gig if the studio didn’t want him to actually do something with it. The fact that MGM would hand over what’s possibly their most valuable IP to a promising-but-unproven writer director, again is something to be excited about. Maybe it’s because they haven’t had a hit property for a while, or maybe it has something to do with it being a co-production with a company with a history of being artist-driven, like Warner Bros. Whatever the reason, it’s fresh and exciting, and I’m into it. It’s also nice that he has a lead in Michael B. Jordan, who’s not only a fantastic young actor, but someone with whom he has a rapport already. And it works for Jordan, who gets big-time, wide-release exposure that’ll hopefully wash the stank off of him from what I’m presuming will be a God-awful Fantastic Four reboot.
Sylvester Stallone embracing his age. Hopefully.
There’s always something nice about seeing a thing you didn’t realize you wanted. I thought I was done with Rocky after part five. I think we all were. Then Rocky Balboa shuffled in, and even though it was a bit contrived, I still enjoyed it, and thought it was a fine place to end.
Then, a little while back, someone sent me this:
Now, I knew they’d been kicking around the idea of a Creed movie for a little bit a year-or-so ago, but with the onslaught of all the Marvel/DC/Lucas news items, if Creed got a mention, I never heard it, and kind of forgot about it all together. But then I got that photo. And from that one image, I got a spark of hope that it was going to be the movie it needs to be; one where Stallone is not the focus, and where he’s comfortable being an older man. It’s something Schwarzenegger has been doing lately in movies like The Last Stand and Maggie, to varying degrees of success. Regardless of the movies themselves, there’s something intrinsically interesting about a former superman dealing with the vulnerabilities that come with age.
Stallone should know a thing or two about it. Remember this guy?
That’s Stallone in the middle, from 1997’s Cop Land when he was just a spry fifty-one year old. In a movie packed to the gills with humongous performances (we’re talking about a movie with Liotta, Keitel, and DeNiro,) Stallone gives a restrained one as a likable, but-not-too-bright small-town cop. Honestly, besides Rocky, Rocky III, and First Blood, I think it’s his best performance; and a large part of it has to do with not only the dramatic change in his physique, but that he embraces his character’s weaknesses, and gives the audience something to really hold on to. I don’t want to turn this into a Cop Land review, so after you’re done with Bride and Fruitvale, I highly recommend watching this’un. It’s streaming on Netflix as I’m writing this.
It’s a shame; just when it felt like he was really starting to stretch his legs as an actor, he immediately went right back to doing mostly the same sort of moderately okay-to-sorta-terrible movies he had mostly done since Rocky III. I think Cop Land’s director, James Mangold, put it best:
“The movie was under so much pressure to be America’s next Pulp Fiction. But it’s such a dark and sad tale, less jazzy and more of a kind of morality tale. It ends in a dark place. The star value got so high, and Miramax wanted the grosses to be so high. When it came out, a lot of daggers were out for Sly. He had made a bunch of shittier moves, he’s the first to admit, that weren’t aimed for the highest result each time out”
I know it sounds like I’m assuming a lot from a short trailer, and a picture of Stallone looking suitably age-appropriate. I’m not saying that Creed is going to be the movie where Stallone turns into Kirk Douglas. I’m not even saying that it’s a no-brainer that it’ll even be a good movie. But it seems like it’s taking a lot of chances. If those chances pay off, it can be a game-changer, in a lot of different ways.
And that’s why Creed matters.