Few stars capture the magnetism of Sylvester Stallone. The action superstar developed several of the greatest franchises in history. To this day, he remains an icon of masculinity. The ultimate “bet on yourself” story created a fifty-plus-year Hollywood career. Yet, the documentary about his life, Sly, lands with a thud. Despite giving us the inside perspective on his career, it’s an extremely focused and uninteresting examination of his best work.
After breaking out with Rocky, Stallone looked for the next great opportunity. Soon, he racked up hits, bouncing between Rocky, Rambo, and several 80s action blockbusters. By the 2000s, his career seemed to have passed him by. Instead, The Expendables brought it roaring back to life. The documentary follows the ups and downs of Stallone’s career from his perspective.
Ultimately, fans of Stallone’s will be happy with the nostalgic romp. There’s very little new information. He dives into his time growing up but often shares this time with his brother, Frank Stallone. The best commentary comes from Wesley Morris and Quentin Tarantino, who provide the critical lens through which to view Stallone. That, paired with Stallone yelling at his younger self to be honest (while listening to old interviews) makes for some fun highlights.
Yet the ultimate issue with Sly boils down to his narrative. The documentary never dives into the shady corners of his career. It never addresses his life away from the camera, and other than his brother we rarely see his family. This feels especially odd given the existence of the reality series The Family Stallone.
Additionally, many of his movies simply do not appear. He does not mention Creed, the most baffling choice on its face. Given his frustrations over the direction of the franchise and MGM, it’s less surprising. Yet the Golden Globe win for the first Creed remains a hallmark moment of his career. Regardless of the frustrations he might have with the spin-off films, this choice seems especially odd.
While it’s not uncommon for movie stars and directors to tell their own stories, the celebrity bio-doc has become a frustrating new medium. As The Press Box podcast at The Ringer has noted, these have become the new autobiographies. They are made to engender as little negativity toward a subject while allowing them to tell their own story. Sly falls into this trap, despite having an incredible story to tell at its center. Its lack of curiosity in exploring the niche aspects of Stallone holds this back from reframing the actor or really dealing with his legacy in any way. It also tells us a lot about Stallone. In his mind, he’s Rocky, Rambo, and an Expendable. Everything else was just a step on that road. Sly will find its die-hard audience but falls woefully short of living up to its promise.