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I love underdog sports films. There’s something about the balletic performances of talented athletes, the forging of the bonds of friendship, and the triumph of a group of determined folks against all odds that just gets to me at my core.
But recently, I’ve started to think I can’t enjoy boxing films anymore.
Other sports can be problematic for a variety of reasons. Football is still in the process of coping with an epidemic of CTE. Hockey can frequently be violent. But boxing is one of the only sports where the objective is to punch someone repeatedly until they pass out. It feels like a barbaric spectacle, with many parties being enriched as a massive audience cheers two people nearly beating each other to death. Boxing movies invite you into that audience and ask you to cheer too.
Of course, the Rocky films weren’t always about the spectacle. The first Rocky in particular was about the beauty of perseverance, and focused intensely on the Rocky/Adrian relationship. As the films went on, they mirrored Stallone’s other action franchise (Rambo) and became increasingly conventional, bombastic and unmoored from reality.
The problem with Creed I and II are that they add to the mythos, but they don’t really do anything to challenge or interrogate the ideas behind the franchise. The creation of the character of Adonis Creed (played with quiet intensity by Michael B. Jordan) is unquestionably a great achievement. But neither of the Creed films engage meaningfully with any of the interesting questions behind boxing as a modern acceptable profession.
Creed II in particular posits the concept of not boxing as an event greater sacrifice than boxing. On one side is Adonis Creed’s pride and his reputation as the heavyweight champion, but with a large possibility of a crippling or fatal injury. On the other: a fulfilling life with his family. In the end, Creed makes the predictable choice. The moral of the story is that might makes right. Boxing might not fix all your problems, but if you DO box, you should win. Winning is what gives you your value.
The films are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, with fairly predictable arcs and endings. That doesn’t make them bad films, but it doesn’t make them particularly interesting ones either.
Here are a few things I’ve been reading this week:
- As someone who had many issues with the epilogue(s) for Red Dead Redemption 2, I appreciated Matt Goldberg’s take on how the epilogue negatively impacted the rest of the story.
- Tim Ingham at Rolling Stone explains how the album is dying.
- Gina Bianchini has an interesting take on how Facebook’s time as the predominant, one-size-fits-all social network of our time may soon be coming to an end.
- Kevin Alexander’s piece for Thrillist on finding the best burger place in American and killing it is a fascinating one. I’ve seen a lot of people passing this around as evidence that journalists need to be more reflective about how their work impacts subjects. I don’t want to discourage that impulse at all, but to me, this piece is equally about how many restaurants lack the ability to scale. The skills that are required to make an amazing burger aren’t necessarily the same ones as those required to manage massive influxes of interested tourists (I say this as someone whose parents owned a Chinese restaurant and who helped to run that restaurant during times both intensely busy and not).
- Jason Torchinsky explains why the world of Star Wars is a pretty grim place.