Action Heroes – Stallone: Rocky

Just in case anyone thought that during this action hero retro season that we forgot to include the two characters that put Sylvester Stallone on the map, we didn’t. But with two large franchises, we thought we’d save these to the end.

Rocky gets the first round:

This is the film that put Stallone on the map, the king of the underdog stories; the one that shot to Oscar glory and brought houses down in tears with its rousing climax. Rocky was the brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, back then an underachieving actor who took the fairly inventive approach for an unknown of writing his own script.

We find Rocky Balboa, a bum boxer with a heart of gold, working as a collector. He understands the streets; he understands how tough it is; but while not seeming to be the brightest spark in town he’s also full of unconditional compassion for his fellow human being. Whether it’s the guy behind on his payments, or the young girl on the streets hanging out with the wrong crowd.

And this is just his day-to-day life. The main focus of his attention is two places: the first is the world of boxing where he’s constantly fighting an uphill battle with the likes of boxing trainer Mickey who openly calls him out as what he is. The second is putting as much spare time into visiting the local pet store where the girl of his dreams works. The shy (and that is an understatement) Adrian. Adrian lives with her tubby and oppressive brother Paulie. Any chance she had to succeed in life was kicked down by his own resentment at his own failures. Enter Rocky.

Rocky is set to have many emotional confrontations with these key characters in his life. Through eventually coaxing Adrian out on a date (at an empty hockey rink; see her trying desperately to skate and keep up with Rocky who strolls on the ice); to very uncomfortably having her stay at his place for the night. His friendship with Paulie is also put to the test once he and Adrian become an item, and it’s only Adrian who can finally put Paulie in his place. This personal empowerment she got to do so, being through her relationship with Rocky. Rocky then has become the base and girders for this family unit. His other battle on the other hand is one he has to face alone.

The crux of this comes when he is given a shot at the title (having being picked almost at random to fight the current champ Apollo Creed (a wonderful Carl Weathers)). This initial scene between Rocky and the promoter has a very cool one worded line from Balboa. He is sat in the chair, expecting to be asked to work as a sparring partner for Creed. When the promoter corrects him and then asks him if he would be  interested in fighting Creed for the world heavyweight championship. With sad eyes, Rocky replies with a downbeat but realistic voice: No.

Mickey turns up out of nowhere, having lost any chance of taking a potential champ to the ring. But having spurned Rocky’s cry for help earlier, him showing up lets Rocky eventually vent on his own frustrations being viewed as a loser by everyone. It’s a wonderful scene that starts with Mickey doing all the talking and Rocky doing as much ignoring as he can. Once Mickey gets the message he goes to leave, but forgets his hat. Rocky having mistaken the door closing for Mickey leaving emerges from his bathroom only to turn about face and head back in after seeing the old man there again. It’s a horrible moment for any observer to have to witness, and for Mickey to have to live through. But even on his exit and as he descends the steps Rocky lets loose with a type of rant yet unknown to us as the audience, and perhaps to usually sombre Rocky himself.

It’s a prolonged rant and once we finally cut to Mickey walking away from Rocky’s home the voice turns to silence. Then suddenly Rocky emerges from the front down and chases after Mickey down the street. At first we, and Mickey, are unsure of his intentions. But it becomes very clear that he is making his apologies to the old man and accepting his offer to manage Rocky in the ring. This further proves how sweet a guy Rocky is. He will have his outburst and then immediately want to take it back and make it right.

Then it’s onto the montage of Rocky training and running up those steps, being confronted with the egotistical Apollo Creed and then the eventual match itself. Pretty soon it becomes clear to the likes of Apollo that this guy isn’t just a meat bag to punch. And by the final rounds it is clear that this kid has heart! Speaking of punching meat bags. Check out that scene where he goes to town on hanging meat in an interview for television. Hilariously when asked where he got the idea from Rocky says “I think i invented it.” It’s also bring him to the attention of Tony Burton’s character who is the only one on Creeds team who seems to be taking Balboa seriously. And of course we go on to see Balboa fighting with all his heart.

And despite the emotional impact of the Rocky/Mickey confrontation, nothing knocks me more flat in this film than the moment Adrian arrives at the boxing match to see the man she has fallen for get 10 bells knocked out of him and yet get up for more. Bill Conti’s music is euphoric as she stands there, and in a single shot has to close her eyes calmly in order to block out what she is seeing. Tears will roll.

Even Apollo Creed can’t believe what he is seeing. And in a final burst of energy Rocky manages to wind his opponent severely before the bell rings off for the final time. From here it’s onto the two lovers coming together as the match results are called. Anyone wanting to know who won has missed the point. All that even matters to Rocky is what is important in his life (which is eclipsed at the end of Rocky Balboa when he exits the ring happy that he did what he came to do – my opinion of the last film is very high in many respects, but youll get someone elses opinion on that one when it swings round). Here; it is the woman he loves that is important; and searching for each other they proclaim their love and the film freeze frames in all its blood, sweat and tears glory.

Steven Hurst

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