Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan’s first film, Fruitvale Station, took both the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in 2013, before either of them had celebrated their 27th birthday. The critically acclaimed drama (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) which tells the true story of the last day of Oscar Grant, a young black man killed by police in Oakland, went on to win the Prix de l’Avenir d’Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and 29 other film awards, while it was subject to a bidding war (won by the Weinstein Company) for the theatrical distribution rights. It fairly launched the career of Coogler, a first-time director, and fully shed Jordan’s image as poor Wallace from The Wire (or slightly less poor Vince from Friday Night Lights), putting them both on Time‘s list of 30 people under the age of 30 who are changing the world, and establishing them as Hollywood players to be reckoned with. So of course, when given the opportunity to choose their next project together with the world at their doorstep, they chose–well, they chose Rocky VII.
That may seem like a non-sequitur, but as the first trailer for the film–called Creed, as in “Adonis Creed,” son of Rocky’s chief rival Apollo–indicates, this is a passion project and a personal story, just like Fruitvale. The trailer, and the film, clearly draw on the Rocky mythology–it’s built around the Rocky IV turning point that involved Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed dying in the ring at the hands of a Soviet super-boxer (the Rocky films got weird after a while)–but it takes the franchise’s sillier moments (Creed’s death, Rocky’s return to the ring as an elderly man fighting a young champ, probably Paulie’s robot shows up at some point in the film) and uses them to launch relevant questions whose answers are intense and worth seeking: What’s it like to grow up without a father, especially when he died in a high-profile way? What do you do, when you’re an old man with no battles left to fight, when a young man comes to you for guidance in navigating a world you’ve left behind?
The trailer is light on fan-service (Stallone doesn’t even show up until halfway through, though he does quote the original film’s thesis, “it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit,” at the trailer’s conclusion) and heavy on boxing-as-metaphor. That’s at the heart of Rocky, too–it’s what won the first film a Best Picture Oscar–but it’s something that the franchise largely forgot as it became increasingly cartoonish. As unlikely as it is that there’s going to be a seventh film in the Rocky franchise, that’s nothing compared to the fact that the seventh Rocky movie looks so friggin’ good.