Friday, April 8, 2016

Rocky II Review

So here’s the thing: the Rocky franchise sequels have a truly poor reputation, but revisiting the first sequel, Rocky II, reveals a film that is not so bad as might be remembered. If it were a standalone film, it would be a moderately successful little boxing movie, probably largely forgotten by now, but decent. As the sequel to the wildly popular and Best Picture Oscar-winning first film, it had a lot to live up to.

Essentially, Rocky II follows the formula of the first film almost to the letter. It exists purely to have a rematch between Rocky and Apollo, a recreation of the sports drama of the previous film. Like the first film, this one was written by Sylvester Stallone. However, this time he took on directing duties in addition and of course starred in the film. Carl Weathers returned as Apollo, as did all the other principals: Talia Shire as Rocky’s love interest, Adrian; Burgess Meredith as Mickey the trainer; and Burt Young as Adrian’s brother, Paulie.

Stallone’s story for this first sequel doesn’t lose the heart and soul of the original. The focus is still primarily on Rocky and his love for Adrian, whom he proposes to and marries. And shortly after a little Rocky Jr is on the way. They’ve got a more comfortable lifestyle with the money he earned from the fight and also with some commercial work, although that turns out to be one of the more embarrassing moments for Rocky when he has trouble reading his cue cards. But the story is still very much about a down-on-his-luck street thug who just wants to make his life and his family’s life better.

The only thing I can really mark it down for is its insistence on being a sequel that is just bigger than the first for the sake of giving the audience more. It’s sort of become a standard Hollywood cliché in the ensuing decades that a sequel is just a repeat of the same formula, only bigger, dumber, and louder. Well, Rocky II has a training sequence that is almost identical to the first, but with the addition of hundreds of young people running alongside Rocky as he jogs the streets of Philly and finishes at the top of the steps in front of the art museum. Then there’s the fight itself, which devolves into an absurd contest of trading the hardest blows imaginable. There’s little to no attempt to choreograph what might look at least a little like a real boxing match. It more closely resembles an action movie fight choreography. Apollo and Rocky just pound away at each other relentlessly. It’s totally ridiculous. No one can withstand the direct blows to the face these two characters endure, but there they go punch for punch until they both fall to the canvas in the final seconds of the final round.

Apart from that, the one thing it’s really missing is the timing that the first film had in coinciding with the bicentennial and tapping into national feelings of pride and optimism. Rocky II is without the richness as a result of that absence, but it is nonetheless a somewhat satisfying continuation of time with these characters.

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