Rocky II

As I mentioned when I reviewed the original Rocky, when I obtained the DVD of that film, it was part of a double feature with the first of the sequels. Having it close to hand, I knew I wasn’t going to wait too long to bust out Rocky II and see how well it held up to the first. Well, it seems like three weeks was about as long as it took for me to decide that it was time.

As with the first one, Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky II; unlike the first, this time he also directs, the studio apparently having been convinced he knows what he’s doing after all. Writing an Oscar-winning movie will do that for you sometimes. Naturally, Stallone reprises his role as Rocky, and all the other major actors from the film return as well. Talia Shire returns as Adrian, and Burt Young as her brother Paulie. Burgess Meredith returns as Rocky’s trainer, Mickey. And Carl Weathers returns as Apollo Creed… who has decided he very much wants a rematch against Balboa.

He just felt like they hadn’t caused each other enough brain damage yet.

The film picks up where the first one left off… or rather, slightly before, as it repeats the end scenes of Rocky. As in the original, Creed, who won on points, stated there would be no rematch… but reporters goad him, asking if he thinks he could really beat Rocky outright. Apollo asserts that he’s willing to face Rocky in a rematch any time, any place. Rocky, however, announces his retirement.

Again, Rocky II is a drama first, a sports film second. Rocky tries to live his life wholly outside of the ring and at first enjoys the freedom and the money from the fight. He proposes to Adrian, and does so in exactly the nonchalant, self-effacing way that he had before the fight. No bended knee, no fancy setup; he just asks her what she’s doing for the next 40 or 50 years. He went the distance against the heavyweight champion of the world, had a moment in the spotlight, and the love and respect of his hometown, but he’s still the same guy he was before: humble to the point of being unsure of himself.

Creed, on the other hand, is swinging the other way. Although he technically won the fight, he doesn’t feel like he beat Rocky; unlike all his prior opponents, he failed to get a knockout. His trainer, Duke (Tony Burton) tries to get him to get over it, but he can’t. People keep sending him hate-mail, of various kinds. Some say he fixed the fight with the judges. Some say the judges just made the wrong decision. Some go the other way and suggest that Rocky was a bum who Creed carried for 15 rounds for the publicity. It eats at him, stings at his pride. He tries to get a rematch going, and in doing so starts playing the villain to the public, something the showman had never done before. He starts trash-talking Rocky, calling him a coward for not accepting the rematch.

This is only slightly smarter than pissing off the other Stallone character with a red headband.

The drama in the film largely comes from Rocky and Adrian’s reactions to the challenge. Adrian doesn’t want him to fight again; he promised her he’d give it up after nearly being blinded in one eye in the previous fight. But Rocky has his pride as well. It’s not so much the insults, it’s that he feels useless outside of the ring. No high school diploma means he can’t get a desk job, can’t do anything but menial labor. And in a tough economy, even that’s hard to come by. He can’t do commercials because he has no acting talent whatsoever, not even enough to read a cue card. (I have to praise Stallone, incidentally, for writing that scene knowing he’d be the one acting it; I can’t imagine a lot of actors are fond of portraying themselves as bad actors.) After some heavy spending, his fight money is exhausted, and with Adrian pregnant, he sees a new fight as his best chance of doing right by his family. But he puts his family first. After a scare, he stays by Adrian’s side and doesn’t entertain the thought of the fight until she makes one request of him: win.

In a lot of ways, Rocky II rehashes some of the same ground as Rocky. It’s the same two characters duking it out in the ring. The relationship with Adrian is still the heart of the movie and the driving force for Rocky to fight. And there are still unconventional training sequences, this time with Mickey having Rocky chase a chicken to build up his speed. He even still does the Philadelphia courthouse run.

Usually it’s a bad thing to have this many people chasing you.

But there are differences as well. Mainly it’s in the fact that the character development from the first film continues here. While Rocky still observes some people wanting to be around him just because he’s famous (wryly commenting after an autograph “to my best friend in the world… who I’ve never met”), those close to him genuinely want to be there because of him now. Paulie still has his moments of being a jerk, particularly to Adrian, but he’s more open about wanting to help Rocky and Adrian out, helping Rocky to get a job and buying Rocky’s car off him when Rocky’s pride won’t let him accept a hand-out. Adrian is more assertive than in the first film, hates what the fighting did to him, but learns to accept that is what Rocky does. And Mickey, in a quiet but powerful scene, shows that despite his tough-love trainer persona, shows that he’s willing to stick by Rocky even if he doesn’t fight at all. Even Creed gets his moment; while he acts the villain to the crowd, the film is careful to never actually paint him as one. He’s just a man whose pride is stung, and at the end, he shows he’s willing and able to let that go as he and Rocky exchange a few short friendly words at the end of the match (which is as close as the first one, though ending in a different manner).

So while Rocky II retreads some of the same ground as the first, it’s still its own film. Where it is the same, though, is that it’s also a great film. It’s always entertaining, even when Rocky is just ambling along looking for work or spending money like it’s water, there’s a charming aspect to the film that keeps the “lovable loser” aspect of Rocky working for it. And it still makes the audience want to cheer, not just at the end, but at several points throughout.

Rating: 5 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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8 Responses to Rocky II

  1. Heh, heh heh.

    III! III! III! III! (The fans demand it Morgan) III! III! III! 😀

    Anyways, I think the hospital/baby stuff slows the film and makes it a little bit less fun to watch than I, I’ve also always thought the final double count was kind of silly. When the hell have you ever seen that in a fight? Hollywood.

    Fascinating angle though about Stallone directing. Knew he had, but hadnt thought about it before. I wonder how much of his newfound clout from I he had to use to get the studio to let him. If any? I know the “Making of” with I… now I guess I gotta learn it with II!

    III! III! III! III! III! III! III! 😀

    • The double count is a bit silly, but I think Stallone really wanted to keep it as a fight that “could have gone either way”, and without reprising the judges’ decision from I.

      It’s a good question on just how much clout he had to use. I just checked IMDb, and Rocky II wasn’t the first movie he directed — he directed Paradise Alley (another all-Stallone picture) the year before. But since I’ve never heard of that one before, I’m betting it wasn’t a huge success. Perhaps it was good enough to serve as a proof of concept to the studio, though?

      And yes, III will happen. Not sure when, as I don’t have a copy of it yet, but it’ll happen.

  2. sanclementejedi says:

    That a real good read Morgan. I think now you have to complete all the Rocky film reviews.

    That pic of Rocky running looks like it could be from 28 Days Later 😉

  3. Dave says:

    Probably my favorite movie series of all time. All of the Rocky movies have their moments (some people may argue that Rocky V didn’t, but I thought there were some good points in that one too). My favorite is probably Rocky 4, although the first one won best picture, and both 2 and 3 have some great, heart-wrenching moments.

    We just did a post three days ago on my blog (The Funny Names Blog) featuring some funny facts about the funny-named Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone. This isn’t a plug for my blog, but since you are working your way through the Rocky films, I figured you might enjoy it.

    • Thanks Dave, I might check that out.

      As long as all the Rocky films have a few good moments in them, I’m sure I’ll enjoy them all. I don’t expect all of them to keep to the same high caliber as the first, of course. But hopefully they’ll all be enjoyable.

      • Dave says:

        They definitely do. There are some great scenes in Rocky II that I can’t tell you about because it would spoil the plot. The two beach scenes in Rocky III are very good, and they really showcase Paulie well in that film (he becomes funnier and more enjoyable as the series goes on). And Rocky IV has a fascinating storyline and probably the best training montage of . I haven’t watched Rocky V in years because a friend told me it’s not worth it, but I probably should, given the fact that I’ve watched them all multiple times since then. Even Rocky Balboa (the “where is he now” 6th one) was pretty good, despite having a ridiculous premise.

        You should definitely check out our blog, at least once, just to get a sense for it. We have a pretty unique theme and a lot of people really like what we’ve done with it.

        Anyways, it was good to meet you, and I’m glad I decided to check out the “Movies” tag in my reader for the first time in a while, so I could stumble upon your Rocky post.

        To a long, shared appreciation of the Rocky films! 🙂

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