Rocky II (1979)

Rocky II: Electric Boogaloo

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Rocky II picks right off where the first movie ended and with the characters are already established, we can get right into the story. Stallone writes and directs this time, and who knows his own creation better than him?

Rocky II has a much higher budget than the first film and thus doesn’t have the guerrilla filmmaking tactics of the first so while it loses something in that regard it’s still no less a beauty of a film. They can even afford to have a huge crowd of kids following him during the training montage and possibly the cheesiest moment in any Rocky movie. We now get two montages instead of one and the series obsession with them would grow from here. The final fight benefits the most from the higher budget. We actually get to see a large crowd of spectators instead of relying on stock footage and camera angels disguising the lack of extras; while the use of slow-motion captures the pain and barbaric nature of fighting in glorious detail. When Rocky and Apollo both fall to the ground at the end of the fight, the suspense is crazy! The final shot of Rocky’s beat up face as he slurs in classic Stallone fashion is so barbaric; a perfect shot to end the movie on.

In Rocky II we get to see what Rocky does now that he has lots of money for the first time in his life and you really get a sense of the character’s new found happiness. However, he becomes blinded by this happiness and it goes to his head such as when he buys a house without even checking the upstairs. Rocky struggles with his new found fame and can’t even film a simple commercial. Just like how the public turn their back on Rocky, the public turned their back on Stallone after his two follow up films to Rocky bombed; Paradise Alley and F.I.S.T. Like how Stallone had to do a sequel to Rocky in order to get by, Rocky has to fight Apollo again to get by and prove that he is not a fluke or a one hit wonder. Apollo’s trainer Duke also has a bigger role here and would continue to be more prevalent in Rocky III and IV; I love this guy and his intense words of inspiration.

Rocky II is easily the funniest movie in the series, from his poor driving skills to his mispronunciation of words when trying to film a commercial (“Smeel mainly”) but my favourite moment is when he tries to a catch a chicken as part of his training (“I feel like a Kentucky Fired Idiot”). I also find it funny the scene in which Apollo is being consumed by hate mail telling him to kill himself; it’s a good thing for him the web doesn’t yet exist. In terms of more twisted humour, Rocky takes Adrian to the zoo and even proposes to her there, because you know, retards like the zoo.

Rocky II was the first film in the series to use synthesizers in its score and the music feels very late 70’s and at times disco inspired (listen to the vocal version of All of My Life, it’s beautiful). Bill Conti’s ‘Redemption’ is by far the best piece of original music in the movie; it makes me want to climb a mountain.
Just a side note: In regards to the Rocky DVDs, only the first movie gets the special edition treatment and the rest are just bare bones releases. I know the first is considered the best but that doesn’t mean there’s no merit to the sequels that they’re just tossed aside on the home video releases.

Rocky II offers everything I could ask for in a sequel, a movie which stays true to the original but offers new elements along the way. It advances the story and adds an extra layer of depth to already complex characters. In 1979 the New Hollywood movement was coming to an end and the age of the blockbuster had begun. In 1976 Rocky lost the final fight but keeping with the newfound optimism in Hollywood movies, in 1979 Rocky wins the fight (although timeline wise its late 1976).

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Rocky (1976)

The Philadelphia Story

I may sound like a bit of a fanboy when I talk about the Rocky franchise but I just legitimately love all these movies so much. This is a series which always inspires me and has aided me during my darkest days. Rocky was one of the first movies to have such a profound impact on me, making me appreciate cinema on a deeper level. I first saw Rocky on TV and week after week came back to watch the sequels; such joy I had and memories I never forget.

I don’t think there is a fictional character whom I’ve been more emotionally invested in than Rocky Balboa. Could there be a character who is more honest or down to Earth? A man who has next to nothing yet has such a positive outlook on life (“Naw I ain’t got no phone, I had to pull it you know because people calling me all the time, and who needs the aggravation, right?” – such profound wisdom). The character is also a mystery and an enigma; who are his parents and what about his early years? Apart from a few brief snippets of information, it’s up to the viewer’s imagination instead of giving us a pointless origin story which Hollywood is so keen on nowadays. The character is biographical of his creator Sylvester Stallone throughout the whole series; his fictional alter ego. Just like Rocky, Stallone had next to nothing before making it as a star. Just like how the character rises to the challenge against impossible odds, the movie also beat impossible odds by becoming one of the biggest sleeper hits of all time. Likewise what movie or character is more identified with a city or has such reverence for the location it was filmed.

All the films in the series reflect the periods in which they were made. It’s 1976, America’s Bicentennial year. Perhaps the country didn’t know it needed an injection of optimism after years of cynical and pessimistic film as well as political upheaval. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place for cynicism in movies but with such movies dominating the mainstream at the time it was clear that enough was enough. It seems like happy endings where against the law in the first half of the 70’s, but Rocky brought them back for better or worse, and film snobs will look down on it for that. But yes, I do blubber away at this ending and Adrian’s uttering of “I love you!” is the greatest “I love you!” in cinema history. The ending has that same feeling of joy and happiness as seen in the ending of many Frank Capra movies. Speaking of Capra, Rocky’s response to being asked if he wants to fight Apollo Creed for the world heavyweight championship is like Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds Goes to Town when he is told of the vast sum of money he has inherited.

As the filmmakers didn’t get permission to shot for many of the on locations, guerilla filmmaking techniques where employed in the making of Rocky; capturing the streets of Philadelphia in all their glory with that distinctive that gritty look of 70’s films while aided with the use of the then-new technology in the form of the steady cam. You’d be hard pressed to find a movie which is more naturalistic and unmanufactured as Rocky.

It’s astounding that such a low budget film could have had such a great soundtrack and score. Bill Conti’s score to Rocky always makes me feel melancholic; the Rocky soundtracks have given me hours upon hours of listening pleasure. I even watch the end credits of all the films for the music (well except the first one as the end credit music here is quite dreary). The Rocky movies are also responsible for my love of montages. I’ll never forget the feeling of exuberance I felt watching the film’s training montage for the first time and hearing Gonna Fly Now; we’re talking the goosiest of goosebumps.

Roger Ebert compared Stallone to Marlon Brando in his original review, and in 1976 no one could have seen this man being a future action movie star, but I maintain the man is more intelligent than people make him out to be. He’s made a respectable career out of what he is capable of doing. How many people can claim to have been able to write installments in a film series which has lasted four decades and still manage to keep the long-running story interesting? During the filming of Rocky, he had to do script rewrites on the spot such as upon discovering the ice rink for Rocky and Adrian’s was completely empty or the shorts on the giant poster of Rocky in the stadium where the wrong colour.

When I watched this film at a younger age, I never fully appreciated the romantic angle, yet watching it from a more mature perspective. Rocky and Adrian are like two misfits who don’t fully fit in with the rest of society. There is a goddess with Adrian, and only Rocky can see it. The scene in which Rocky invites Adrian to his apartment after their first date took my breath away like few other love scenes have ever done. The sexuality on display is immense with Stallone in a vest and the gradual build-up to their first kiss, and I’m sure they did it.

The world of Rocky is populated with such unforgettable characters. Rocky’s trainer Mickey Goldmill is one of the greatest mentors in film history (either him or Obi-Wan Kenobi in my book) with his grouchy and curmudgeon manner. I feel Burgess Meredith is an actor who got better with age, so no surprise his most famous role came to him at the age of 68. Paulie (Burt Young) is one pathetic hateful loser, abuses his sister, is violent and yet you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) on the other hand, dam! What a showman with his charisma, confidence, cockiness, and ego; the archetype of a leading man from a blacksploitation film. Yet despite being a black man, he is surely one of the most patriotic characters ever put on screen who shuns any left wing mentality of victimhood; sounds like a dam monster movie!

One more recent viewings of Rocky I’ve also come to appreciate Tony Gazzo (Joe Spinell) more as a character. A charismatic loan shark who employs Rocky and has a real liking for him, giving him money for his date, attends his fight with Apollo and doesn’t try to take over his boxing career whereas many other mobsters would. Yet Rocky’s lenient collecting style by refusing to break the thumbs of clients who don’t pay up causes problems for Gazzo yet he treats Rocky almost like a brother. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that in the original script for the film, Rocky and Gazzo where brothers.

When Rocky visits the empty arena before the fight you can feel the pressure and weight that bestows him. By the time the final fight comes around I’m so emotionally invested in this character that I’m rooting for him like it’s a real fight. During the fight itself, the punches look real and there’s no sped up footage like boxing films of the past; while Bill Conti’s score ups the intensity and suspense for some serious emotional impact.