For the previous review on Rocky IV – please click here.
For the previous review on Rocky V – please click here.
For the previous review on Rocky III – please click here.
How do you follow up an Oscar-winning film with the same vibrancy, emotions, characterization and impact as the one that came before? For the writers and crew of Rocky II, it was making sure that they were going to be able to put in a plot point that would be more emotionally charged to the main characters as well as the audience. I can specifically say that the film did its job.
The second film leaves off right where the first one ends. There is a little bit of a bump as the first one ends with both opponents, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) and Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) agree to not go through a rematch, but in the first few minutes, there is Creed, shouting at Balboa for a rematch. They explain it off with a couple lines, but when you watch both films together, it’s a little awkward…but that’s OK because the film could only work one way…with a rematch between the two.
We see a genuine heartfelt moment between the two fighters in the hospital when Creed admits to giving it his all during their match – setting up a slow foreshadowing of a working relationship in a future film, maybe? From this point forward, their trajectory goes in opposite directions – one becomes fueled by what he feels is betrayal of his fans, while the other begins to enjoy fame and fortune.
Rocky gets an agent, who sees big money in his fighter. Rocky begins doing commercials, where you see the humor return in his character. But you also see the moment where he’s losing options as to what life will be like post-boxing. Rocky sees no alternatives – he must box again. In the meantime, Rocky decides to go with some advice he got in the first film – he takes Adrian to the Zoo! And at the zoo, Rocky proposes to Adrian with a “I was wonderin’ if you don’t mind marryin’ me much” (a classic line that many Rocky fans have shared in their own proposals, I’m sure). We also find out that Adrian is pregnant with their child.
Then, there’s Apollo’s storyline and I do appreciate the fact that we get a little more insight into this character. In the first film, we find Apollo to be sarcastic and arrogant and with an attitude where he won’t take Rocky seriously. Here, we get the flip side of the coin…Apollo really does take it serious and feels fueled by the fact that many fans are saying he got rocked in the match. Apollo wants to prove that he didn’t win the match just by chance. Apollo wants a rematch.
Rocky realizes he can’t do anything else but box at this point. He returns to his trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), but Adrian (Talia Shire) is the obstacle here and doesn’t want her husband’s health to decline. The characterization here is great….in the first one, Adrian is clueless about boxing and supports Rocky, but now they’re married and Adrian’s love isn’t the support here, but the obstacle. Rocky knows that boxing can cause further rips in their relationship, but Rocky feels incomplete without this. Mickey, on the same hand, needs Rocky all in because he’s at the point of no return and Apollo needs this match to prove he’s still the champion. All the stories intermesh and each character has their own goals.
And things get worse when Adrian collapses, gets rushed to the hospital and slips into a coma. Now what does Rocky do? He has a trainer who tells him he’s only got one chance at the champ now and not to waste it. (This is the part of the character of Mickey that makes him the gruff and tough character that he is…even while Rocky is sitting there in church, praying…Mickey thinks only of the boxing match…boxing is his life, while Adrian is what’s most important to Rocky.) It all comes to a head when Adrian finally wakes up and tells Rocky to “win”. This is the heartbeat of the whole Rocky series – and basically life in general…obstacles that will keep us from our dreams and future and how to overcome them. And now we’re back to the training and the road to the Main Event.
The final fight here is not as exciting as many of the other ones. I would even say that the goofy and comical Rocky IV fight between Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa was more exciting than this one, but it wouldn’t be Rocky without a match and a match is what we get. The highlight here is the double knockout and the race to see who will beat the count at the end. At the end, to keep the film fresh, Rocky wins and becomes the new champion.
Overall, the film explores many of the similar themes as the first one, but in new and innovative ways. The weakness here is actually what they build to and that is the final fight. Rocky proves that he’s not a “bum” anymore, but Apollo proves he’s weaker (yet somehow is still the right choice to train Rocky in the next film?). Paulie’s only contribution is sending his sister to the hospital here and going back to drinking. In the end, Rocky is stronger in the emotional and mental aspects…he’s a boxer, husband and father with new goals to come.
FINAL GRADE: B
What are your thoughts on Rocky II? Did it do well as a sequel to the original? What did you think of the final fight compared to the others in the series? Let me know with a comment and next week, I present the newest film in the series…Creed.