Rocky II (1979) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and language
Running Time: 119 min.

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Sylvia Meals, Frank McRae, Frank Stallone (cameo), Roberto Duran (cameo), Brent Musburger (cameo)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

After a replay of the climax of Rocky, Rocky II picks up exactly where the first film leaves off, with Rocky Balboa (Stallone, Death Race 2000) and Apollo Creed (Weathers, Semi-Tough) taken to a nearby hospital after suffering serious injuries caused by the pummeling each fighter took in their 15-round contest.  Creed won the bout by a split decision, but the victory isn't so sweet, as many fans accuse him of helping Balboa along, while some even think Balboa should have been declared champion.  Contrary to what he said after the fight was over, Creed wants a rematch, but Balboa, at the urging of his girlfriend (turned wife in this film) Adrian (Shire, The Godfather Part II), wants to retire from the ring, suffering from limited vision in one of his eyes as a result of the repeated blows he took from Creed's fist.  Between Creed's constant taunts in the media, the inability to find a steady job, and a new house and baby to pay for, Rocky has to face a decision of whether he should risk his life and wife for the money and glory a rematch would provide.

For series fans, Rocky II is the forgotten entry in the series, not nearly as good as the first film, but also not nearly as flashy as the later entries.  It adheres quite well to the formula of the first film, giving us many scenes of character development, putting Rocky in the role of the extreme underdog, followed by scenes of intense training, and a finale in the ring with everything on the line.  While the screenwriting is mostly on par with the first film, where Rocky II dips in quality is with the lack of the truly emotional content of Rocky.  The replay of the end of the first film and a museum steps scene recreated nearly shot for shot from the one in Rocky still have more heart than anything new Stallone is able to deliver here.  Still, given that sequels generally do drop off in quality, the goods are still delivered for those that enjoyed the first film, enough to make this interesting and exciting enough for most viewers looking to see more of the Rocky Balboa saga.

Stallone takes over the reigns as director, and while he can't quite match up to Avildsen in terms of a natural eye for scenery and tight editing, he knows his characters and the formula sufficiently enough to still make it a successful outing.  All of the important players are back, with beefier parts for all of the supporting cast, who even are allowed some maturation, with Adrian showing a bit more inner strength in the relationship, Mickey (Meredith, Foul Play) much more demanding, and Apollo Creed displaying a darker side to his character that suggests his egotism isn't just an act.  We still root for Rocky to overcome the odds and win, but whatever the potential outcome can't possibly be as sweet as the first time around, not only due to the familiarity of it, but his goals aren't as personal.  No longer does he do it for love, honor and integrity; this time it's all for the money, title, and to preserve his reputation, which are important, but not quite as universally noble.

Rocky II is a satisfying sequel, but it doesn't quite have the right mix of the first film, and is much more manipulative to the audience (for instance, with a big purse coming his way, win or lose, there really is no need for Adrian to continue working through her pregnancy, save for more potential drama down the road).  It plays more for humor, as well as for the human drama, but it never manages to step out of the shadow of its predecessor to distinguish itself as anything other than a retread.  It's not the knockout that Rocky had been, but still packs enough punch to be a winner by decision.

-- Followed by Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, and Rocky Balboa.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo