We continue our unofficial “Rocky month” with part two. Is it second best?
Who made it?: Sylvester Stallone (Director/Writer), Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler (Producers), United Artists.
Who’s in it?: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell.
Tagline: “The Rematch of the Century.”
IMDb rating: 7.1/10.
Back in 1976, nobody had anticipated Rocky to be the commercial success that it turned out to be, particularly on account of its minuscule budget and lack of big stars. Yet, over the course of a few months, the film was catapulted from an unremarkable minor release to a full-blown phenomenon. Thus, with the unexpected success in mind, the inevitable sequel was ordered by the studio, which Sylvester Stallone not only wrote and starred in but also directed. Unlike most sequels to excellent films, 1979’s Rocky II is a worthy follow-up – the heart and soul of the original was successfully replicated, and the film progresses the story of Rocky’s life in a believable fashion. While unable to achieve the daunting brilliance of its predecessor, Rocky II is a solid motion picture which in no way tarnishes the 1976 original.
Following a brisk replay of the climax of Rocky, this sequel begins where the original ended, with Rocky Balboa and World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) being rushed to hospital with critical injuries sustained during their fifteen-round boxing match. As both fighters were left standing after the bout, Creed was declared winner by split decision, yet victory is not so sweet for Creed. In the ensuing months, Apollo’s fans begin to taunt him that the match was fixed, while others believe that Balboa should have been declared champion. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the fight, Rocky enjoys his financial success and announces his retirement from boxing. However, he ultimately begins to struggle in the new life he has made for himself, and realises he can no longer escape his true calling. With Apollo longing for a rematch and with family resources rapidly dwindling, Rocky makes the decision to get back into the ring with Creed.
For fans of the Rocky series, Rocky II is the forgotten franchise entry – it’s not as brilliant as the first movie, but not as flashy or cheesy as later entries. People often brand Rocky II as the most depressing film in the series as well, since a lot of the subplots delve into pretty heavy territory, with Adrian in a coma and Rocky struggling to adjust to his affluent lifestyle. Fortunately, this is balanced with moments of tender humour (including a hilarious set-piece involving a chicken) as well as a very uplifting and poignant finale. The only area where Rocky II severely falters is in the narrative – it’s more or less a rehash of the first movie, and character behaviour is far more predictable. Seeing the burgeoning family dynamic and watching how Rocky reacts to his sudden influx of money is definitely interesting, but the core conflict – Adrian’s reluctance to see Rocky get back into the ring – is underdeveloped and rather perfunctory.
Due to the huge success of Rocky, Stallone had more money to play with for this follow-up and it shows – the film looks cleaner, brighter and smoother. With all of the rough edges of the original movie thrown away, though, it means Rocky II lacks the grimy authentic edge that made its forerunner such a standout. Additionally, Stallone took the reigns as director here, but his work cannot match up to the efforts of predecessor John G. Avildsen in terms of pacing, and thus Rocky II tends to grow a tad dull at times. With that said, however, the original Rocky was so good due to it being a character drama rather than a sports film, and Rocky II retained that approach commendably. It digs deeper into his relationships with others, and the two-hour runtime comfortably accommodates scenes of character development. More importantly, Rocky II is a tremendously uplifting and motivating film. The training montages and the finale are incredibly affecting in addition to being fun to watch. Bill Conti’s once-again exceptional score heightens the film’s emotionality, as well. Added to this, the final boxing match is notably well-crafted. None of the other boxing matches in the series are as brutal, visceral, sweaty or nail-biting as the climax of Rocky II.
One primary factor which makes Rocky II so endearing is Sly’s tender, finely-tuned portrayal of Balboa. The character is generous, humble and disciplined. He’s a loving husband and good friend to boot. Up against the cardboard heroes of many other action movies, Rocky stands out as a true champion. It’s worth noting that there’s a scene leading up to the boxing match wherein he bellows to a priest, asking him for a prayer in case he gets badly injured in the fight. Afterwards, he cheerfully tells the priest he’ll see him on Sunday. It’s a natural, lovely scene which reminds us why the character resonates so well – it’s the sincerity behind him. He may not be bright, but he’s a man you can feel nothing but sympathy and love for. Meanwhile, virtually every cast member of the original film made their return here. The standout is Burgess Meredith who’s excellent as Mickey, while Weathers is also great as Apollo. Talia Shire and Burt Young additionally carried out what was required of them as Adrian and Paulie, respectively, with satisfying results.
It would be easy to brand Rocky II as a sequel that was produced purely for financial reasons, yet the film is far better than these superficial observations might suggest. It may not be as exceptional as the 1976 original, but there’s heart and soul here, and the inspiring climax is guaranteed to trigger goosebumps.
Could it be… ANOTHER MONTAGE??!!
- During his preparation for the film, Stallone was bench-pressing 220lbs, when the weight fell and tore his right pectoral muscle. This was shortly before the fight scene was to be filmed, and ultimately, the scene was shot with Stallone still badly injured.
- In one version of the screenplay, there is a flashback scene that shows Rocky first meeting Mickey and we learn Rocky’s real first name: Robert.
- Stallone himself wrote the paperback novelisation for this movie. The novel is mostly in first person, from Rocky’s point of view, written in the same choppy English in which Rocky speaks. Scenes in which Rocky is not present (such as Apollo Creed consulting his associates, or Paulie alone with Adrian) are in standard third-person, in proper English.
- Analysis by Philadelphia locals tracked the route Rocky took through the city during his training run when all the children ended up running with him. If he took this actual route from his South Philly house to the top of the Art Museum steps, he would’ve run approximately 30.2 miles in one day – four miles more than a marathon.