Tony Earnshaw: Stallone - mumbling his way into new territory

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone
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You have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone: he knows how to milk a franchise.

Okay, that’s unfair. For Creed, whilst being the latest in the Rocky series is not actually part of the Rocky series at all. It just features Rocky (as played by Stallone) but he’s not the star.

Confused? Don’t be.

The fact is that Stallone, 70 next summer, is the ultimate resurrection man. This, after all, is the actor whose career spectacularly flat-lined in the late 90s and who could barely get hired in the 2000s. Then, following an intense period of scriptwriting, came new storylines for his signature characters Rocky Balboa and John J Rambo. Stallone knew what he was doing. The Expendables, a winning amalgam of nudge-nudge ‘80s cheese and hyper kinetic (and ultra violent) action starring a bunch of tough guys nearing their sell-by date, solidified his status as the Comeback Kid.

It was pure genius, and pure box office gold. Who needs new heroes when the old ones are still out there kicking butt? Stallone proved he still had what it took, from his battered pugilist to his ragged Vietnam vet to a pumped-up mercenary with a nice line in quips and heavy weapons.

And now there is Creed. Stallone’s latest is an extension of the Rocky franchise that simultaneously reinvents the series and retains the character.

If Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI) took Rocky full circle, Creed gives the champ a new beginning as a trainer to his former rival’s son. It’s a magnificently clever concept, and not one that in any way short-changes or cheats the audience.

Instead Rocky becomes a supporting player in another man’s story. Creed is as much about Apollo Creed as it is about Rocky Balboa. Thus Stallone honours the past as he takes his mumbling icon into new territory.

Those ten years in the cold taught Stallone something about longevity. The period from 1997 to 2006 was the lean years. But he came back (just like Rocky) and refused to accept defeat – just like Rambo.

Now he’s looking to his dotage. There may yet be another Expendables movie mooted and also Scarpa, a biopic of a notorious Mafia enforcer that might yet prove to Stallone’s detractors that he really can act.

But via the Creed series the Italian Stallion can conceivably edge into his 70s still playing
 the character that made his 
name and reputation 40 years ago, and which earned him Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations as best actor and for best screenplay.

Rocky may have hung up his gloves but he still has something to offer. Creed offers him a viable and plausible future.