Friday, July 15, 2016
(June 1979, U.S.)
Like it or not, ROCKY II had to be made - it had to be! Audiences all over the world (including this guy) were simply not going to sit idly by and accept the fact that Rocky Balboa had unfairly and unjustly lost the championship fight against Apollo Creed at the conclusion of the first film. We wanted restitution, dammit! We were going to get it, because by the early part of the year in 1979, we knew that ROCKY II was coming in just a few short months. Even CBS-TV knew how to jump start our gears by premiering ROCKY on February 4, 1979 and my family didn't waste any time before we were all sitting in front of the TV to catch up on Rocky's story before we got on line at our local neighborhood movie theater to continue his story. Though, ironically, the marketing didn't seem all that strong to me. Look closely at the movie poster and you'll likely agree it doesn't exactly tempt or lure you in too strongly. I mean, it's just a huge mix of black and yellow and the title. Big deal, right? Still, that's hardly enough to deter die-hard Rocky fans!
And so, Sylvester Stallone himself takes on the reigns of director for this one, and more or less, sticks to the same formula that previous director John G. Avildsen originated. Picking up right where the first film left off...well, not really...it rewinds just a bit to recap the conclusion of the film from the middle of the fourteenth round up to the very end. From there, as the opening credits roll, we follow the ambulance through the nighttime streets of Philadelphia where Rocky and Apollo arrive to verbally confront one another. Apollo is pissed and dismisses Rocky's entire performance of going the distance with him as nothing more than a lucky fluke. Determined to prove that he's the superior athlete, he challenges Rocky to a rematch, which Rocky declines for reasons of immediate retirement. His retirement is where, unfortunately, the viewer needs to buckle up and exercise a strong degree of patience. We follow Rocky and Adrian as they quietly coast through life and try to live as "normal" people with a new marriage (to Adrian), a new house, a new car, and a new baby on the way. Trouble is, Rocky's running out of money and he's not particularly qualified to do much else (especially do TV commercials that require him reading cue cards) except fight. You see, it would seem that somewhere during the course of the first and second film, Rocky Balboa has become just a little dumber. Gone, it seems, is the wit and street wisdom of the character we enjoyed listening to in the first film and has now been replaced by an almost tragic simplicity. Rocky still has a wonderful heart and it's his heart that prevents him from truly striving to train with all he has to have a solid chance against Apollo Creed for the second go-around because his new wife doesn't support what he's doing. Even when tragedy strikes and Adrian falls into a coma when giving premature birth to their son, the sadness we're supposed to feel seems limited because Stallone doesn't take full advantage of this moment to express his true self with an emotional speech as he had done previously (twice) in the first film. Instead, he's reduced to reading silly poems and a western novel to his wife in order to remain close to her and help her to wake up. When Adrian finally comes out of her coma (yeah, as if this film was going to go in any other direction!), the story is suddenly kicked back into the place it belongs when she tells Rocky the only thing she wants him to do now is, "Win!"
Now this is where ROCKY II takes off, and of course, it's ignited with the training montage fans cannot live without, two of them this time. During the ever-popular tune of "Gonna Fly Now", the sequence is designed for children because like the Pied Piper, Rocky leads what appears to be all of the children of Philadelphia behind him as he does his running, including up the famous museum steps (again). The famous song is even sung by children this time. Whereas Rocky met his challenge for himself the last time around, this time he's doing it for the love of Adrian and his new son...if he can just get to the fight on time!
The big fight - this is what all Rocky fans wait for! Much like the first film, the choreography of the fight is recognizable in terms of pace, speed, excitement and even bloody violence. It's unfortunate that Stallone has to ruin certain moments by interjecting a common cliché like slow motion action. Really, it doesn't make the fight any better or more thrilling to watch. Still, I have to give Stallone credit for creating a fresh and original way for this fight to climax, with both opponents knocking each other to oblivion until they've both fallen on the floor and it's up to the one who will have the strength, the stamina and the spirit to get up first for us to see who will be the new heavyweight champion of the world. Now be honest - if you were there to see ROCKY II in the theater back in 1979, tell me you did not cheer and scream your head off for Rocky to get up first! You know you did! My family, even my usually-reserved mother, went ballistic and shouted our heads off. It was okay, because the rest of the audience was doing it, too. Perhaps you truly had to be there to understand, but this was movie heaven at that moment - cheering for the underdog hero you love and watching him prevail by standing up first and claiming his right and his honor to be declared champion of the world, and then shouting out, "Yo, Adrian, I did it!" So, despite the film's portion of dragging dullness, my family loved and embraced ROCKY II for all it had to offer us, which was mainly redemption for a beloved character who got screwed the first time around (as did we!). We even stayed in our theater seats and watched the entire movie again (you could still do that without a problem back when I was a kid).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Apollo Creed: "Do you think I beat him the last time?"
Tony Evers: "You got the decision."
Apollo: "Man, I won, but I didn't beat him! What are you afraid of, Tony?"
Tony: "He's all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives. I know what you're feeling. Let it go! Let it go! You're the champ!"
Okay, my friends, this is one of those rare moments where I have more to say after my favorite line of the film posted. This needs to be said because I need to address some of the ROCKY sequels that followed this one. This is necessary because they will not be discussed or posted on this blog for the simple reasons that I don't consider them viable and worthy films for my tastes and I do not own them in my film collection.
ROCKY III - back in 1982, I was fifteen years-old and barely aware that this sequel had been made. One Sunday, I just happen to see the full page promo ad in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section and I knew it was on its way. Like everyone else I knew, I fell for the third installment hook, line and sinker. Like everyone else, I fell in love with a great new rock song called "Eye of the Tiger" by a new band called Survivor. Like everyone else, I thought this new guy who called himself Mr. T was the coolest bad-ass motherfucker in Hollywood. By the summer of 1984, my family was finally subscribing to HBO and I must have watched ROCKY III a hundred times. Well, you know what eventually happened? I grew up and my cinematic tastes and abilities to be more critical matured. I came to realize that ROCKY III is nothing more than a sensationalized, campy and even comical version of something else that it used to be entirely. The acting, with the exception of Rocky and Adrian's fight on the California beach, is plain and unmotivating. The championship fight is almost cartoonish, with very unrealistic sledgehammer sound effects accompanying each punch. The final moment of Rocky and Apollo Creed having a private fight between themselves as friends is, admittedly, a poignant one, but it's not enough to save a sequel that has managed to get worse with age, in my opinion. But hey, I still love the song "Eye of the Tiger".
ROCKY IV - how do I put this kindly? Hell, I can't! This, in my humble and blogging opinion, is outright the worst movie ever made in the history of the movies! In 1985, again, like so many others, I headed to theater to get sucked into the next chapter of Rocky's life, partly because I'd been taken in by Stallone's previous film RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II over the past summer (I saw it twice!). Shit, you could have knocked me over with a spoon if you'd seen the dumbfounded look on my face as I watched this enormous pile of garbage! I could not possibly fathom how the 1976 Oscar-winning tale of love, triumph and spirit could possibly erode into something as unintelligent and mindless as this farce I was watching on the screen! Rocky Balboa's character had become, in my opinion, nothing more than a human punching bag whose Russian opponent was a speechless brute who may as well have been nothing more than just a comic book super villain! Was this movie really supposed to raise our American spirits during a Cold War that still existed in the 1980s?? What also infuriated me even more was that audiences seemed to eat all of this up! I wanted to jump up and shout, "What's wrong with you people! Are you watching the same thing I'm watching??" Well, in the end, I could only presume that people around me were dumb when it came to the movies, or maybe I was just a little smarter. Pick one!
ROCKY V - I actually went to see this one in 1990 because John G. Avildsen was back in the director's chair and I just assumed that the man behind the original ROCKY would do this new sequel some justice. WRONG! The only element that makes this one a slight improvement over its previous chapter is the trauma of Rocky's financial life being turned upside down and forcing him to go back to the beginning of where he came from. With that drama comes a degree of humility lending itself to slightly (only slightly!) better performances by all involved. But on the action and fighting front, it's just as comical and cartoonish as it had been since 1982. By the end, with Rocky and his teenage son standing on the museum steps that made the character famous, it appeared that the tale of Rocky Balboa had exhausted itself was coming to a dull and unfortunate swan song.
That's what I thought for sixteen years, until something finally changed...