Alpha to Omega: Rocky 2

Alpha to Omega

The film franchise is an inescapable part of the modern movie landscape. In this series I will address a series of films from the first to the last, looking at each film as a standalone and how it fits into the series.

Rocky II

In any film series, particularly one that achieves cult status, there is usually at least one film that falls between the cracks. A lot of times it’s because the movies are just bad. Studios are all about money, so when you have a property that is recognizable they will seize on that and start cranking them out. Did you know that there are 4 “Iron Eagle” movies, 11 “Shaft” movies? I didn’t.

Sometimes, though, it’s nothing to do with quality, many of these films are quite good, but for some reason they are almost doomed to live in the shadows of the other films. There are 22 Bond movies (not including the yet to be released “Skyfall”), and a lot of those are relegated to a more obscure position than they should be. I personally think “The Spy Who Loved Me” to be one of Roger Moore’s best, but more people have seen “Moonraker,” “Octopussy,” and “A View to A Kill,” and those border on un-watchable.

Essentially, Bill Goldman was right… nobody knows anything.

As a “Rocky” fan I have had countless conversations about how moving and inspiring the original is, or about how mind blowingly bad ass “Rocky III” is, or the jingoistic merits of “Rocky IV,” hell, I’ve even talked at length about the relative merits and weaknesses of “V.” But I found that as I embarked on this… I have never had a conversation about “Rocky II.” If you listen to our Stallone show, you have heard, quite literally, everything I have ever said about that film.

Why?

Honestly, I have no memory of actually seeing it. I mean, yeah, I’ve seen the ending during the montages in the other films, but I don’t remember ever sitting down and watching it.

Well, a few weeks back I rectified this as part of my “Rocky” marathon. Actually, it was the reason for the marathon and, indirectly, this series of articles.

So, what did I think?

In short, it is criminally overlooked. It isn’t the best of the series, but it is far from the worst… very far from the worst. From a strictly narrative standpoint it is the most necessary and has the strongest emotional link to the original (until “Rocky Balboa” that is).

Done properly a sequel will advance the characters and/or the narrative of the original film. It becomes a necessary step in the evolution of the world of the first film. “Rocky II” does that brilliantly by not only advancing the story and the characters, but by evolving the themes and building on the emotional impact of the original.

Quick recap- Robert “Rocky” Balboa is a scrappy ham and egger (boxers who lack sufficient skill to fight for big prizes, they go paid so little that they couldn’t afford steak) who was given a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. He didn’t stand a chance, but had enough heart to be the first fighter to ever go the distance with Apollo Creed, the Ali-esque undisputed champ. To Creed it was a show, to Rocky it was a chance to be some thing more than just some “bum from the neighborhood.” He loses the fight, but wins the love of Adrian, the shy sister of one of his closest friends.

The movie came out of nowhere and became the biggest hit of the year, win Oscars, catapult the cast into the A list, and became a fixture in American pop culture. So, naturally there had to be a sequel.

“Rocky II,” is a direct sequel, picking up exactly where the first film left off. In essence, if you removed the credits the two could play as one movie. It does what the best sequels do, it continues the story of the original while developing its themes and allowing the world of the film to grow with the characters.

The movie begins with both fighters being rushed to the hospital for treatment after the brutal fight that ends the first movie. In the aftermath of the fight Creed realizes how much the split decision could harm his reputation and once at the hospital he publicly challenges Rocky to a rematch. Rocky declines and announces his retirement.

From here he attempts to enter normal life. He has a bit of money from the fight and doesn’t think it will ever run out. He buys an expensive car that he doesn’t know how to drive, nice clothes, fancy jewelry, and a house. He is living the dream. His newfound fame affords him a chance to make more money through endorsements and he thinks it will lead to a job.

The problem is, as he said in the first movie, he isn’t someone who can make a living off his brains. He tries to do commercials but can’t read lines. He tries to get a job, but lacks education and skills. He even tries going to work at Mickey’s gym, but because he was a contender for the championship and is now cleaning spit buckets and moping the floors he isn’t given any respect by the fighters.

So, broke, broken, and desperate he starts working in the meat packing plant with Paulie. He marries Adrian and she is soon pregnant. Everything seems to be shaping up well for Rocky.

Meanwhile, Apollo is getting deluged with hate mail. Fans see his split decision as an indictment of his championship. If he’s so great, how did this ham and egger go the distance? He is desperate to clear his name and embarks on a public smear campaign of Balboa in hopes of goading him into the ring.

This is where the movie gets interesting. In the first film Creed wasn’t really a villain. He was Rocky’s opponent, but he wasn’t a bad guy. He was a businessman seizing an opportunity. Here, however he turns bad. What makes him bad is the same thing that makes Rocky good; his pride and his desire to be the best. The line that best encapsulates him doesn’t even come from this film. It comes from “Pulp Fiction.”

“The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

Creed cannot turn his back on his pride. He is the undefeated champion of the world. No fighter had ever gone the distance with him before, but it wasn’t enough. He needed to be perfect, and Balboa was in the way of that. In his mind, and against the advice of his trainer, he has to get Rocky back in the ring and beat him.

“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.”

Eventually Rocky has to accept who he really is. He is a fighter, and the only way he can really provide for his family is by doing the only thing he knows. He decides that, against the advice of his doctor who fears for Rocky’s eyesight, he has to fight Creed. In his mind it’s the only way he can support his family and regain his pride.

Things go from bad to worse for Rock when Adrian, who is staunchly against the fight, falls ill and ends up in a coma. He abandons his training and sits by her side.

This sequence reminds you what makes these films work. Rocky isn’t really about fighting. It’s really a love story between Rocky and Adrian. She is his heart, and as the movies are about having the heart to keep going… you see what I’m saying.

Well, as you might expect Adrian comes out of her coma, the baby is fine, and she tells him to go and beat Creed.

The fight comes and Creed is gunning for blood. He vows to knock Balboa out in the first two round to prove that the first time was a fluke.

But he doesn’t. He keeps beating on Rocky, gaining an insurmountable points lead. But Rock won’t go down, reaching the final round.

In the final round, Creed has the fight won on points. All he has to do is dance around Rocky for three minutes and the fight is his. But then pride starts fucking with him. He trades blows, going for the knockout. Finally, after standing toe to toe, pounding on each other, Rocky gets a clean shot in and knocks the champ down….

But he falls off balance and hits the mat at the same time.

Two boxers, one count, and the one to get to his feet before the count of 10 wins.

Finally, after suffering defeat, humiliation, rejection, and almost losing Adrian, Rocky digs deep, because that is what Rocky does, and gets to his feet in time too win.

In many regards this is a perfect sequel. It takes Rocky in a very necessary and important direction and shows his growth as a person. It also shows Creed as a flawed and very human character. Both men represent different sides of the same coin.

Both are dedicated to what they do, they are committed to giving their all, not for money, but for pride. But, whereas Rocky is the embodiment of how pride can help you pick yourself up, Creed shows how dangerous it can be when it gets in the way of common sense.

So far as the Rocky canon goes, this one is difficult to place. It’s not the best, but it is far from the worst. Yet, it still gets less respect than it should. It is a solid addition to the world created in the first one. It moves the characters forward, not just from a narrative standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint. But for some reason it gets lost in the shuffle. If you haven’t seen it, correct that. It’s really good. If you’re like me and can’t remember when you saw it last, you should really take the time to reexamine it. There is a reason Rocky has become as iconic to American cinema as he has, this movie is a big part of it.



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