Sylvester Stallone is back as the human punch bag Rocky Balboa out to show the Master of Disaster Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) that he can go one better this time around. Following the enormous success of the original Rocky (Best Picture Oscar no less), this sequel was totally inevitable and you didn’t have to be a genius to work out what might happen next.
The action kicks off immediately after the first fight as the ambulances take both boxers to the local hospital. Rocky is told that he can’t keep fighting as his eyeballs will simply explode out of his head next time around. Naturally he attempts to cash in on his new found fame and does the usual overspending lark, eventually ending up back where he began at the meat factory. Apollo though is beginning to get grief from the media, telling him that he couldn’t whip this chump’s ass, or some such nonsense. He needs to get back in the ring with the Stallion and so it must be.
Thankfully Rocky II doesn’t suffer from the usual sequel slump and actually delivers in terms of excitement and drama, all be it ridiculous. The first half plays out as the rags to riches back to rags story that blights so many people in the fight game. Once backed into a corner Rocky and Mick (Burgess Meredith), his trainer, realise that Creed needs a lesson in humility and things swiftly move towards the inevitable training montage. Once it arrives your heart is beating like a drum and you simply cannot wait for Rocky to get pounded for 14 rounds right before winning in the 15th.
Rocky II is a credit to Stallone’s understanding of the mythology of boxing as it remains the one sport where a young kid with absolutely nothing can change his entire life around in one evening. The drama is utter nonsense but this is the type of movie where you simply must suspend belief and allow the story to take you to the final bell. The film loses all touch with reality when Apollo’s in his dressing room being taped up whilst Rocky is looking for a priest on the streets of Philly for a blessing.
The final fight is hysterically over the top as our man absorbs around five thousand power punches dead in the face without much effect. As his eyes close due to swelling he refuses to be cut and decides to box on blind. Yes, that’s right, blind. The final slow motion scene is by now a total classic as the crowd urges Rocky to get up and beat the bell, which of course he does. The genius of the Apollo character is that he remains entirely human throughout making his transition into Rocky’s best friend entirely believable in the later films.
Fans of the original Rocky hold this sequel in high regard and rightly so given that it takes things to a whole new level of insanity. The myth of Rocky as the man who can take untold punishment and still be world champion started right here. The soundtrack as always is immense and works on a level of emotional pornography in making you want to leave your house and start running in a bummy tracksuit.
Of all that Sylvester Stallone has done in Hollywood the Rocky franchise is ultimately his greatest achievement both in terms of financial, critical and Oscar gathering success. His basic love and admiration for boxing has been perfectly translated into a full on Hollywood melodrama that does what Hitchcock claimed films do at their best: it’s life but with all the boring bits removed.