I have always been a fan of the Rocky series of movies. I find it quite uplifting to watch a struggling boy from the streets come from rank underdog to unquestioned champion. This love affair with the stories began as a boy when I first saw Rocky III, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan were massive at the time and though I watched it to see those two big wrestling stars I soon found myself going for the Italian Stallion. That said I had never sat down and watched the series in quick succession, that was until last week.



Rocky (1976)
In essence the plot is small time struggling boxer Rocky Balboa stumbles into an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the champ. Like his professional career his personal life follows the same bumbling pattern. So a very simple story, the art though is explaining how fragile and as a result self harming our hero is.

This is explained with an incredibly long back story of 50 minutes. It accentuates how fragile our hero is through his romance with Adrian and fractured relationship with Mickey. Rocky has decided that he wants to be with Adrian, his best friends (Paulie) sister, and sets about bumbling his way to winning her heart. Rocky does his best to be charming by continually visiting Adrian at her workplace and telling jokes, unfortunately the jokes are lame. Eventually Paulie sets Adrian and Rocky up for a date at thanksgiving. The set-up though is more an autocratic decision by Paulie that Adrian is going out and he is purely a male chauvinist pig in the scenes. Clearly this is a product of it’s time as I could easily envisage a lynch mob if the scenes appeared in a new movie. Rocky has no real idea what Adrian is interested in and is told by Paulie as they enter the home that she likes ice skating. The rink though is closed and somehow Rocky manages to scmam his way to 10 minutes of skating for $10. For someone who is supposedly into ice-skating Adrian seems incredibly unsure of herself. Further during the date it becomes evident that Rocky’s life experience is obviously limited as all he can talk about during his date with Adrian is boxing tales, this only adds to the sadness built to date.

Rocky’s favourite haunt is a local fight gym run by Mickey Goldmill. This is a strained relationship as Mickey sees the wasted talent and opportuntity that Rocky represents and as a result removes Rocky’s locker privileges in favour of a new up and comer. Rocky is a reflection of Mickey in that he portrays a hard crust over that camouflages a soft fuzzy heart that strains to find a way out.. Rocky knows and feels the same wasted opportunity. Rocky by default undersells himself,and settles for the small time rather than embrace opportunity.

Surrounding this story is the current champion Apollo Creed who has set up a new marquee fight in Philadelphia. His planned opponent is then injured and finding a replacement opponent is next to impossible for various reasons. Apollo then gets the idea to give the people a rank underdog to bring to the fight. Apollo and his team them consult the boxers reference books which seem very thorough and current for a pre-internet age. It is a very romantic vision that such books were ever cloth bound and atleast 500 pages. The name that bubbles to the top is of course Rocky Balboa.

Enter the training montages and the fight to complete the movie. I always thought Rocky won the fight, however it is fitting that he did not. What he won was a self belief this makes it even more powerful a film.

Sly wrote this well knowing his own limitations in the acting front clearly ensured there was no poor scenes. The investment in back story alone surely owes to the confidence that this was the birth of a franchise and not being a once off film, that said Rocky is still the most complete film in the series and could still be considered credible in it’s own right.

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

Rocky II

Rocky II

Rocky II (1979)
Rocky II picks up immediately from where Rocky left off. Apollo Creed is dogged by accusations that he did not deserve the split points win and that Rocky was better. This angers Apollo who demands a rematch with Rocky to squash the speculation. Rocky though has retired in favour of settling down to a normal life with Adrian free of fighting.

Life looks good for Rocky and Adrian moving into a new place together and with a baby on the way. However, Rocky struggles with new found fame and wealth in this movie. Rocky becomes overconfident and spends the purse from the first fight quickly believing he will be able to shoot commercials to make a living. The commercial shooting scenes underline Rocky’s shortcomings for becoming a media face for products. Rocky then gains employment in the meat processing plant at which he trained in the original. Soon after though he is retrenched due to economic factors and being the last in he is first out. Rocky realises that he needs to go back on a promise made to Adrian and fight. Adrian is not happy with this decision of course. Enter Paulie to play the prick once more. He pushes Adrian’s buttons and eventually she is made to think about the situation and what Rocky needs to do.

Mickey and Rocky then set off to training. Mickey knows that Rocky has a problem with is right eye from the first fight and that if he takes too many hits there he will end up blind. Mickey sets about making the south paw fight right handed. Rocky has to learn this art and wait the time before switch hitting. The highlight being a chicken chasing scene. The chicken chasing is to build speed into Rocky and develop from an out-and-out slugger. This made me think about the classic “wax on, wax off” scenes in The Karate Kid. The rest of the story follows much the same story as a first with a rematch looming with Apollo Creed. Rocky though has reservations with his disagreement with Adrian weighing heavily on his mind.

A pregnant Adrian soon collapses at the pet shop where she has once again working at before being able to tell Rocky of her support. Adrian goes into labour and the baby is safely delivered if premature. Adrian though goes into an extended coma. This disrupts Rocky’s training and he spends days at her side and refusing to meet his newborn son. After some time she wakes and learns of Rocky’s devotion to her. After meeting their son together she tells Rocky to win, this then releases the beast.

Rocky and Mickey then set about training harder than before that is inevitably captured through a montage. The montage shows a steady progression with Rocky eventually catching the chicken and going for the famous Rocky run up the stairs. The fight then follows with Rocky fighting right handed and switch hitting at opportune times. The fight is as good as the first and this time Rocky walks out the victor.

Stallone once again wrote this to his strengths. Amazingly deep film for such a simple character and story. It is by no means a perfect film, but it is a very good sequel to original.

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

Rocky III

Rocky III

Rocky III (1982)
Rocky III remains faithful to the series. Rocky is still champion during at the beginning of this movie and there is a long montage of Rocky defending the title. During the montage we are introduced to Clubber Lang (Mr T.) who progressively looks angrier and stronger. Clubber is another slugger who dominates his opponents quickly. Predictably Clubber challenges Rocky to put the title on the line and take him on. At this stage Rocky learns that Mickey has been protecting the champion by pitting him against has beens and never will be fighters. Rocky does not like this and insists on taking Clubber on despite Mickey’s protests. For the fight Rocky trains poorly in an atmosphere of celebrity constantly posing for photo opportunities. Meanwhile Clubber trains well.

The highlight of the poor preparation was the Boxer vs. Wrestler match with Thunderlips. Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) who subjects Rocky to his devastating moves. Whilst Rocky indulges in being the champion it is clearly not the right way for a boxer to prepare for a championship.

Just prior to the fight there is a confrontation between the Clubber’s and Rocky’s entourages. During the confrontation Mickey goes down with a heart attack. After getting the old man to the locker room Rocky is told by Mickey to fight. Rocky is not 100% focussed on the fight and loses the championship, a fight at which Apollo Creed is commentating. Upon returning to the locker room he finds Mickey in a very bad state. Mickey soon after dies with Rocky at his side.

Rocky walks away from the fight game disenchanted, unfocussed and directionless. He is a fighter, but has always had Mickey at his side. At this point Apollo Creed turns up and proposes a rematch but with Rocky to be trained by Apollo and his crew in California. Rocky is full of doubt but wants the championship back and agrees. Pauly, Adrian and Rocky join Apollo in Los Angeles and are soon introduces to Apollo’s fight gym which looks run-down and is a gym for African-American fighters. Pauly, Adrian and Rocky feel like aliens in this environment and Pauly embodies this with some racially controversial words. Rocky though understands what Apollo has in mind and begins training.

Apollo trains Rocky in a completely new manner to bring out speed and grace in him in an attempt to turn a slugger into a boxer. This is awkward for Rocky who takes a long time to settle into the rhythm of the new regime. It is only after giving up in a foot race with Creed that Adrian speaks to Rocky. As in the other movies she is his mental lynch pin and convinces Rocky to put the demons to one side. At this point the big change occurs with Rocky beginning to get stronger and attain the eye of the tiger. At the rematch Rocky and Clubber fight it out and Rocky wins, of course.

The cycling of characters in the third movie was well handled in a totally credible way. The music was the best of the series. Clearly Stallone knew the series needed the injection of something new and Mr T. was an excellent choice. Stallone’s Rocky vision was well served by this movie, that said it lacks some emotional depth of the first two.
My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

Rocky IV

Rocky IV

Rocky IV (1985)
The first thing I should declare is that Rocky IV has always been my least favourite of the series. Dolph Lundgren grates on me as an actor and the political overtones of the movie detract from the boxing spectacle. That said the film still has some merit in the grander story.

Rocky IV begins with the same familiar star sequence with a montage from the previous film. This is a key to the film maintaining a semblance of continuity, an art Stallone learnt from Rocky II and beyond.

Rocky has been living the high life and even has bought a servant robot for Paulie. I wish that robot actually existed! Rocky is soon challenged by a new opponent, the great Drago from the Soviet Union. Rocky is seen as the great man from the USA and Drago is an undefeated amateur from the USSR. Enter the beginnings of the political overtones within the film. Rocky declines as he is retired, again.

Having said I dislike Dolph is in one of his better roles as Drago. I think that is because he has very few speaking scenes and when he does speak the sentences are short and to the point, thus hiding his achilles heal. He certainly is the embodiment of the feared Russian adversary from the cold war period.

It is to be expected that Apollo would want one more fight. It seems to be the boxers dilemma. What is a little surreal is that Apollo was so overconfident despite seeing what Drago was bringing to the fight. That said it seems that the boxer who is confident is always the one that loses, and in that respect Apollo losing was fitting. Apollo dying though seems a little excessive, in fact a stronger message could have been sent if Apollo was damaged in some way, such as brain damage.

Needless to say the catalyst for Rocky to train has been found and he is hellbent on taking it out on Drago in the USSR. Rocky sets off without Adrian or her blessing and trains in a backwater of the USSR. The height of the separation is that the pair do not even say goodbye.

I must say that the Mercedes or the guy picking them up does not scream Russian to me. KGB assignments are also dressed far too western for effect. They are more a hint that this is the USSR than anything believable.

Of course without Adrian around Rocky has no emotional balance. Predictably that is set right when Adrian returns. Rocky then sets about the training sequences and of course wins the fight. During the fight Rocky wins the support of the Soviet crowd to the chagrin of the officials. Unfortunately Rocky then goes into a political message mode and essentially says “why can’t we be friends” to the applause of the crowd. The blunt speech of this kind detracted from the message, a message that had more power with the crowd simply cheering.

The film is not as bad as I remember, but the weakest of the first 4. Music was also weakest, I mean “Hearts on Fire” sure is no “Eye of the Tiger”!

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

Rocky V

Rocky V

Rocky V (1990)
Rocky V starts where Rocky IV left off. Rocky returns the conquering hero, however soon learns that Paulie has made a poor financial decision with sever repercussions on the entire Balboa clan. The family has to sell up and they move back to the old neighbourhood.

Rocky is down about being back in the old hood and wants to fight to make some money and extricate the family from the dilemma. Unfortunately Rocky has taken so many beatings he is certain to take permanent severe damage if he fights again. Adrian convinces Rocky that the fighting is over and that it is time to accept the situation. Reluctantly Rocky accepts that for the family he must stop.

Rocky then sets about rebuilding Mickey Goldmill’s gym which has become incredibly run down due to years of neglect. Soon the gym is running well once more, believable due to the owner. A young turk (Tommy “Machine” Gunn” tries to attract Rocky and Paulies attention and soon proves himself worthy of greater training. Rocky throws himself into the endeavour of training Tommy into a legitimate contender. During this Rocky drives Adrian and Rocky Jr. away.

This is a bad time to drive Rocky Jr. away who is finding it difficult to adjust to being a poor boy after his charmed upbringing to date. He is picked on at school and tries to get Rocky to help him learn to fight, Rocky pays lip service to his son and Rocky Jr. is left to learn from Paulie. This goes some way to explain how fractured the relationship is in the final chapter of the series.

Tommy eventually is soon attracted to leave Rocky to be on the payroll of George Washington Duke, a promoter. He is soon promised the world and given new cars and women that attract his signature. This destroys Rocky who has done the hard work in training Tommy. Tommy though soon wins the championship and is dogged by being labelled Balboa’s protégé. He sets about getting Rocky to fight, and fight Rocky does, in the street. The street fight is a fitting ending and takes Rocky back to the roots of the character. Rocky of course triumphs and Tommy is carted off to jail.

By the end Rocky has repaired the damage with the family relationship. In writing this Stallone seemed to want to preserve the character but was struggling for a hook, much like the promoter. Also erred in it exposed some of his lesser acting abilities.

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (2006)

The final Rocky film does not start with the end of the previous movie. This is fitting due to the passage of time. I did though particularly like the street singers from number 1 singing the opening of the movie. This is where some continuity is preserved for the fans.

Rocky has now become the restauranteur. Adrian and he set up an italian café where Rocky has become the host telling old boxing stories. This is quite believable as Rocky has a million stories and people would hang off the champs words.

The characters have of course changed and notably Adrian is no longer around. The explanation for the Adrian character not being a part of the story is handled in a respectful way with Rocky visiting his wifes grave. This is where the strain between Rocky Jr. and Rocky Sr. begin to become apparent.

Rocky visits his son who has become a stock broker or some such. Rocky Jr. is very much in the shadow of Rocky Sr. and wants to stand on his own. However he is trying to achieve this by being a part of the crowd within the corporate world. Rocky Jr. is asked to come by the restaurant later, and again does not show. Instead he goes to the bar with his colleagues and there is a boxing program on that is comparing past champions with current champions using computer simulation. Coincidentally the current champion (Mason “The Line” Dixon) is compared with Rocky with Rocky being declared the winner.

Dixon is struggling for credibility as he is simply a class and half above all his competition. He is struggling to find fights that are attractive to promoters and needs a new fight to reestablish himself. Eventually the idea to set up a demonstration match with Rocky is born.

During the story Rocky also comes across Little Marie from the first movie. In the first movie Rocky had tried to be the voice of reason with her and was called a “Creepo”. A memory that Rocky still has. That said Little Marie is all grown up with a son of her own in the same run-down neighbourhood she grew up in. Rocky takes the kid under his wing and shows him a clear path for the future.

Rocky then becomes reinvigorated by the computer match and fights for a license. His plan is to fight in the small leagues just to satisfy a thirst for competition. Needless to say he ends up in the ring with Dixon and an epic battle ensues. Dixon is eventually declared the winner, however Rocky has rediscovered himself and has won his battle.

Stallone preserved the Rocky legacy with a good end to the series. The series now needs to be left alone for many years with no remakes/reboots or any other terminology. Leave the classics alone!

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

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