The best Rocky movies are those that feel the most personal to their writer and star, Sylvester Stallone. Whereas Rockys three through five seem to exist merely to extend the franchise, the original, Rocky II and Rocky Balboa all have something to say. The setup for Rocky II is a rematch between our hero and the great Apollo Creed, but what Stallone’s script is really interested in is exploring how Rocky deals with newfound fame. It’s a topic that must have been extremely personal to Stallone, who went from an unknown actor to an Oscar winner after the release of the first film.
The sequel begins on the same night the first one left off, which is a trick I’m always a sucker for. Rocky decides to quit boxing after discovering he has a detached retina, but after failing to adjust to a normal life, he gets back in the game when Apollo Creed demands a rematch. Meanwhile, his relationship with Adrian progresses while both of them attempt to adjust to their sudden notoriety.
Aside from the commentary on the difficulties of fame, the burgeoning friendship between Rocky and Apollo Creed is another interesting development in the sequel. Carl Weathers is great as Balboa’s cocky opponent, and his presence in the franchise would be sorely missed after the fourth entry. Burgess Meredith is also fantastic as Rocky’s grizzled old trainer, Mickey. Every actor gets a chance to shine in this film, and they’re all accompanied by a fantastic score from Bill Conti. The composer brings back the classic Rocky themes that audiences know and love, but also adds some extra funk to the music. This was made in 1979, after all.
Though the original film won numerous Oscars and kicked off the entire franchise, I have to admit that I find Rocky II even more entertaining. Stallone steps into the director’s chair for this entry, and he manages to craft a sequel that feels like a natural progression for the character. He also perfectly captures the tone of the original while making everything from the love story to the boxing action feel more intense. While some could complain that Rocky II hits too many of the same story beats from its prequel, the themes are different enough to make it stand out.
Rocky II is everything a sequel should be, and it’s also the last truly great film in the franchise until the final installment. Instead of merely going the distance, Stallone ensures that this Rocky delivers an emotional knockout punch.
– Don Williams, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of United Artists)