Tom Jolliffe looks at the upcoming offerings from Sylvester Stallone, who is still going strong at 76…
For many, Sylvester Stallone is an icon. A hero through childhood and adolescence for several generations of movie fan. I grew up in an era where playgrounds were divided by camps. It might have been a Glaswegian School divided by Celtic or Rangers. Pepsi or Coke (c’mon, it’s Coke all the way). In other schools during the 80’s and early 90’s you were pitched as either a Stallone fan or an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan.
Sure, you’d have kids barging into the argument with intrusive suggestions like Bruce Willis or maybe even Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the big dogs in the action genre around that time, with arguably the biggest rivalry, were Sly and Arnie. I was in the Sly camp, but held a secret appreciation for the great output of the Austrian Oak, that in all truth surpassed Sly’s overall. Stallone’s consistency wasn’t as assured, and Arnold, at least until the mid 90s, rarely misfired.
Stallone has been written off countless times. His 90s material was often greeted with indifference at best, even if some films like Demolition Man have aged well and gathered more retrospective appreciation. By the time the early part of this century was ushered in, Stallone’s star had faded, with several films bypassing theatres, putting him in danger of joining Van Damme and Seagal in straight to video obscurity (when bypassing theatres was actually a death knell).
After years of trying he had an unlikely but emotionally gripping comeback as his most iconic character in Rocky Balboa. The sincerity and heart behind the sixth Rocky film was greeted positively, and having been made on a sensibly modest budget, made a decent amount of money. Sly, was back. A comeback for Rambo followed, then a new franchise was launched thanks to the nostalgic, if slightly mediocre, action theatrics of his Expendables gang.
The first Expendables film read like a 35 year old action fans wet dream. The sequels followed suit and Sly, along with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke, Van Damme and Scott Adkins, all played a part in three films.
The Expendables further proved that Stallone could maintain a level of relevance as a creative force, rather than merely diving back into his two iconic characters. He still returned to Rocky though, in the spinoff Creed. Ryan Coogler’s vibrantly formulaic tale freshened up Sly’s formula, and brought Rocky back as the mentor. It worked well, with Coogler a talented cinematic voice, and Stallone revelling in his out of the ring turn as Balboa. He received his first Oscar nomination, since receiving two for the first Rocky film, some 40 years prior.
If it feels as if things have tailed off a little in recent times for Sly, it’s because there was a distinct lull. Walk on roles in lacklustre straight to video thrillers (including two Escape Plan sequels which did surprisingly well in China) and a long delay on a fourth Expendables suggested Stallone was losing relevance again, even with an MCU cameo under his belt, and another turn as Rocky in Creed II.
Step forward to 2022 however and Sly is back in the spotlight again. Following his voice role as King Shark in The Suicide Squad, which went down a storm, he has an Amazon tent-pole premiere to come and what looks like a great role in Taylor Sheridan’s Tulsa King, coming to Paramount +.
Sheridan’s Goodfella-esque gangster opus has a compelling outline with Sly as Dwight Manfredi, exiled from the mob after his release from a 25 year stretch, who has to set up a new outfit in Tulsa, a world away from the streets he knew and a different time altogether. Albeit very brief, the teaser for Tulsa King suggests that Stallone is bringing a hefty level of gravitas to his role, focused entirely on his acting. It’s the kind of gravitational shift required for an actor closing in on 80.
Though Stallone has continued to run and gun and kick ass in his movies, it’s occasionally at the expense of nuanced character work, and in danger of feeling silly. In Tulsa King though, Stallone can do the kind of character work that fans have long known he’s capable of. Billed as something of a new subscriber magnetiser, Tulsa King appears to be one of the standout originals on the horizon for Paramount+.
Meanwhile, an air of mystery has long surrounded Samaritan, a comic book movie, not unlike Will Smith’s Hancock, which sees Stallone as a former superhero, presumed dead, who now works as a garbage man. A lack of much promotion besides a few images and some pretty vague plot details, didn’t suggest there was much faith in it. Then it was announced Amazon were putting it out as an Original. Of course, the Amazon model of film distribution is very different to a theatrically released film, and so the trailer has arrived just under a month before the premiere.
The assumption might have been that this was a small film, shot on a budget not far from the Escape Plan sequels. However, judging by the trailer, Samaritan looks like it has a hefty budget. It feels like it’s been treated as a tent pole, albeit in the streaming model. It looks like it deserves a big screen run, and that it’s worthy of the theatrical experience, but I suspect there wouldn’t be enough of a turnout to warrant doing that. Aside from having a certain grit to it, and Stallone on seemingly good form, Samaritan appears to have some impressively staged, and surprisingly practical set pieces.
Samaritan feels like it’s big scale. The kind of film Stallone was making 25-30 years ago. The man himself still carries an impressive physical presence. I had worried, given a lack of any real details, negligible screenshots and promotion, that this was a film being quietly prepared for a quiet drop on streaming and would probably look cheap. Those worries fade after a trailer that will hopefully be backed up by a film that has Stallone delivering the goods once more. A lacklustre last Rambo film wasn’t worthy of Stallone’s qualities, but this might well be, playing nicely to his age, whilst acknowledging the physical presence he still possesses in abundance.
With another MCU role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as well as a final fling as Barney Ross in The Expendables 4, Stallone shows no signs of slowing down just yet. What are your thoughts on Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming films? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.