Carl Weathers

REVIEW: Rocky II (1979)

After Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) goes the distance with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he retires from boxing and plans to get an everyday job and settle down with the love of his life Adrian (Talia Shire). But when Creed wants a rematch in order to restore his reputation, he begins to insistently goad Rocky to accept the challenge.

I don’t know how controversial this may be but I preferred Rocky II to the original. One of the fun things about watching these films for the first time is that while I’ve been aware of them though pop culture osmosis, I don’t know what happens in each film nor do I really know which films are considered to be the best/worst.

Everything in Rocky II just clicked better for me. Perhaps it helps that now I know these characters so I’m not starting from scratch and am more invested in their relationships. Rocky II follows a similar format to the first in the sense the first half is Rocky trying to live a life away from boxing before getting pulled back into it again and then the second half is the training montages with the boxing match at the end. There’s a surprisingly emotional hurdle for Rocky in that second half though and Stallone really brought a level of sincerity to this character/story that I wasn’t expecting.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve often thought of Stallone as more of just an action star rather than a proper actor, at least when he was young (I have seen Creed and admit he deserved a load of awards for his performance there). Seeing how Stallone portrays the love he has for Adrian and the life he’s trying to build makes me think there was always a great actor in this action hero stereotype. Knowing also how this character/story was created by him, makes this franchise feel like a real labour of love and I’m already looking forward to revisiting Creed once I’ve seen Rocky’s story in full.

One thing I really enjoyed was Rocky’s relationship with his coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith). Their dynamic was excellent and while Mickey was no nonsense and gave Rocky tough love when training him, he also was ready and willing to be by his side when Rocky needed it the most. Mickey’s monologue to Rocky in the church was excellent and possible one of my favourite moments in the film – alongside the training montage where hundreds of schoolkids though the streets of Philadelphia with Rocky. Both scenes got me emotional for different reasons.

Rocky II provides a great rematch for these two larger than life characters and it was good to see more of Creed’s home life to as it made him more sympathetic and it was a good juxtaposition with Rocky’s situation. The final boxing match was really engaging and all the character elements came together really well. A very worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: Rocky (1976)

When world heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a competitor for an exhibition match, he chooses to go for an underdog. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time Philadelphia boxer making his living working for a loan shark, but when he gets the opportunity of a lifetime, he strives to go the distance.

On run up to Creed III I thought I’d re/watch the series. I’ve seen (and loved) the Creed films before and I had watched Rocky a good 6+ years ago but hadn’t seen the many sequels so thought it’d be fun to get all the backstory and references and see what all the fuss is about with this franchise. As I said, I had seen Rocky before, but as it’d been so long ago I remembered next to nothing about it so this was like a first time watch.

I kind of find Rocky fascinating. This little film started a whole franchise and while we all love an underdog story, it’s kind of unbelievable that it grew from this film which feels so incredibly small and indie. Also, where is “Eye of the Tiger”?! I’m guessing it’s in one of the many sequels but it’s kind of wild that the song that’s so synonymous with the Rocky franchise and character isn’t even in the first film. The actual Rocky theme is pretty great though and does suit the characters underdog origins.

I prefer the latter half of Rocky, after he’s invited to compete against Apollo Creed and then starts training and his relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire) develops, as the first half is a lot slower and is more of his everyday life which isn’t really that great. However, I don’t think the latter would be half as impactful if we didn’t see where Rocky came from. Honestly the ending and how Rocky slowly opens up to Adrian before the fight makes me appreciate the first half more with hindsight. You need to see how Rocky is kind of coasting through life and not really believing in himself, so when he does start to really work for his dream it’s all the more impactful.

The start of Rocky and Adrian’s romance does make me a bit uncomfortable as her shyness/hesitancy and Rocky’s persistence does feel a bit like he’s stomping all over her boundaries. I know this sort of thing was pretty normal in the 70s (and even today in rom-coms the (often male) love interests persistence tends to be rewarded) but the way it’s shot and Shire’s performance does make Adrian and Rocky’s first kiss feel a bit off to me. As their relationship evolves and the balance they find in each other, it does become a sweet romance – Rocky saying “she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard in a film in a while. Was such a unique way of saying the usual “she completes me” line.

Rocky is a pretty great underdog story and, for a sports movie, features very little boxing. It’s more about Rocky as a character and the connections he has with his friends, trainer, and girlfriend. The slow and meandering first half is worth it as the final act is pretty great. 4/5.