The training montage is a genre staple of the boxing film. It conventionally includes the labored transformation or building of the ‘underdog’ challenger's body intercut with shots of the already-built body of the champion he seeks to defeat. It is particularly associated with Sylvester Stallone’s hypermasculine star image, defined by hyperbolic spectacle and ‘hard bodied’ muscularity (see Tasker 1993; Jeffords 1994), and his most iconic character, Rocky Balboa.
The training montage in Creed (Coogler 2015), the critically acclaimed seventh installment in the Rocky series, showcases Ryan Coogler’s abiding and resonant interest in the lives of young black men, as the illegitimate son of Rocky’s great friend and rival, Apollo Creed, strives to ‘become’ Adonis Creed (formerly Johnson) under Rocky’s tutelage. Coogler adds a third dimension to this genre trope, incorporating Rocky’s reluctant treatment for cancer, as the older man learns to fight again at the insistent behest of the younger black man: “If I fight, you fight”. Coogler’s homage reflexively mirrors and transforms the first Rocky (Avildsen 1976) through multiple generational and racial interdependences. The fates of sick ‘blue collar’ white man and fatherless young black man, aged 80s action star and energized would-be star, and writer-directors separated by four decades are more than shared; each can only ascend with (the support of) his other.
Stallone’s late career resuscitation, exemplified by the unexpected commercial success of his ‘new’ ‘geri-action’ franchise, The Expendables, cannily if desperately veils and displaces his (and the all-star 80s action collectives he assembles) diminished action capacities and aged ‘hard body’. Yet in the montage, Stallone, whose performance garnered an Oscar nomination, finally shows and admits the frailty of his aged action body – and the genre-star mortality this represents. In so doing, Stallone directly engages persistent vulnerabilities and anxieties as an actor, as a ‘commercial auteur’ (Holmlund 2014), and as an ageing/aged action star. Ironically, in relinquishing authorial control over his star image – Creed is the first of the series Stallone neither writes nor directs – he extends and enshrines its legacy. Unlike Rocky, in Stallone's submission rather than stubborn resistance, he triumphs… and perhaps even makes us love him again.