I was wondering if this was going to happen. The fact that it’s even possible – with the 7th turn as such an iconic character, no less – is amazing, but with the filmmaking pedigree of director Ryan Coogler, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Sylvester Stallone has become an early Oscar front-runner for the first time in 40 years, with the same role that made him a contender 40 years ago.
Creed, the Rocky franchise spinoff that follows Apollo Creed’s son Adonis on his journey toward a boxing title, has Stallone’s Balboa taking a supporting role – outside the ring rather than in it – as the young Creed’s mentor. Star Michael B. Jordan and director Coogler previously collaborated on the gritty, powerful, and universally-acclaimed drama Fruitvale Station, and now they may return this saga from its bloated Hollywood glitz to possible Awards gold (the original Rocky won Best Picture in 1976), although hints of that potential were there in the tender, stripped-down coda Rocky Balboa nearly ten years ago.
Still, for as much as Coogler and and Jordan were expected to elevate the material to its original nuance and depth, legitimate Oscar buzz was not an industry expectation, perhaps most especially for Stallone who seemed to have drained every last drop out of the character, even as an old washed-up man in the franchise’s 6th and final entry. And yet, as Variety’s Awards Editor Kristopher Tapley writes in his piece “Sylvester Stallone Might Have Just KO’d the Supporting Actor Oscar Competition”, Stallone paints “a complex portrait, one that feeds the journey of the film’s main character rather than steal his spotlight.” And as Variety critic Andrew Barker put it in his official review, “Without straining for pathos, using his battered body as an asset but never as a prop, the actor finds continually surprising, understated notes of tenderness and regret.”
When the first Rocky debuted, critics were actually comparing Stallone to a young Marlon Brando. It was a little hard not to given some surface similarities between Rocky and On The Waterfront (which was barely over 20 years old at the time). Stallone’s career went on a decidedly different path, to be sure, but if this hype is real then that career may end where it began, with a surprising – and substantial – left hook that not even Stallone himself saw coming.
Creed opens nationwide on Wednesday November 25, 2015.