Friday, October 2, 2015

Rocky II

Welcome back to FlashBack Friday where I'm covering all of the Rocky films leading up to the upcoming release of Creed! Last time was a glowing review of the original Rocky film, but I did mention that despite its iconic status I wasn't as familiar with it as a kid. Well, if I was unfamiliar with the first Rocky film before revisiting it a few years ago, it's been so long since seeing Rocky II that this might as well have been my first time. I had so few memories associated with this one that I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew from its reputation that it didn't quite live up to the first movie. With that, let's get into the plot of the film (and though it might go without saying, SPOILER ALERT from here on out!).

After his triumphant (but ultimately losing) effort against world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, Rocky is sent to the hospital for treatment. There he is diagnosed with eye damage that could result in permanent blindness if he risks going into the ring again. As such, he is inclined to reject Apollo's fervent challenge to face him once more. The fight would bring the newly married couple a much-needed financial boost after Rocky foolishly spends all his money from the first match, but Adrian maintains her rigid stance that the risks far outweigh the financial benefits. Only after waking from a coma following the birth of their son does Adrian finally decree, "Win, Rocky!" With a new-found surge of motivation, Rocky trains harder than ever and faces Apollo again, not to go the distance, but to defeat the reigning champion once and for all. Nevertheless, the fight does go to a deciding 15th round, and after simultaneous punches knock both fighters to the ground, Rocky just manages to climb to his feet before the ten count is up.

Right off the bat I want to say, this is not a worthy follow-up to the award-winning first installment... but that doesn't mean this movie is bad. It is a little disappointing to see all the dramatic weight and character depth go to waste in a fairly generic and somewhat contrived "fall from grace" tale, but the characters are still likable enough to make the journey worthwhile. Were it not for the prospect of actually fulfilling the one thing Rocky wasn't able to accomplish in the first movie, there would be no point in even revisiting this character at all. The cast is back, and Stallone is writing the screenplay again... but he's also stepping into the director's chair for the first time. His lack of experience is painfully obvious as the story beats play out with no subtlety or nuance. Having said that, the fight at the end is probably even more entertaining than the original, and the last deciding seconds have me on the edge of my seat no matter how many times I've seen it.

A lot of this film's appeal comes from its frequent call-backs to the last movie, which isn't as charming in an era where we can go back and see that first movie any time we want. It's also unsatisfying to see these characters revert back to the status quo from which we last saw them in the first Rocky film. The whole point of revisiting a story is to take the characters places we've never seen them. Granted, there are a few things that change for Rocky. He gets married and get pregnant shortly after (as shown in a brief montage), but these are side notes to the story that's actually being told. Speaking of side notes, Rocky can't read? It seems ridiculous to me that the director of this commercial wouldn't be more patient with him. They need him as a marketing gimmick, so it's not like they're doing him a favor by allowing him to promote their product. It seems like Stallone was just trying too hard to force Rocky back into a life of borderline poverty so we can all sympathize with him again.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre movie, but the ending is still inspiring enough to make the rest of the story worth it. Everything is a little weaker in Rocky II, but as I said at the beginning of this review, that doesn't make it bad. I still like these characters and want them to be happy, so I can more-or-less go with the convenient plot devices to see them progress. To preview my thoughts a little, it'll be a few weeks until I review a Rocky movie that hits this low again. Thankfully Stallone finds another formula to churn out that departs from the tone of the original but totally works on its own merits. As for this film, I wasn't crazy about it; so I'm giving it a somewhat generous three stars.

ROCKY II is rated PG for boxing violence and some language