Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rocky- retrospective

The film Rocky may be the greatest underdog story put on film.  These movies show a guy who simply wants to go the distance and his story is inspiring to this day.  The characters have become icons and the moments from the films have become cemented in film history.   All of the Rocky movies spanned a six film series that encompassed not just the story of a fighter but the story of his family and love.

Rocky- Rocky tells the story of how boxer Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone is a bruiser with a heart of gold.  He helps out a kid in his Philadelphia neighborhood and he finds beauty in a shy pet shop worker, Adrian, played by Talia Shire.  When the cocky heavy weight champion Apollo Creed wants to hold an exhibition match he chooses Rocky based solely on his nickname, “the Italian Stallion.” Rocky trains with the aid of Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith.  The day of the fight Rocky goes the distance with Creed in an epic match.

The acting in this movie is great. Everyone does a great job making this world believable and in the 1970s when everyone was an antihero it is amazing to see a character that is so kind-hearted.  The music is like something that we’d expect to hear while summoning a Greek hero.  Rocky touches the underdog in all of us and reminds us that every once in a while the little guy can knock a giant to the ground.

Rocky II- Rocky II follows where the last film left off.  Rocky considers himself retired and starts spending his money and doing commercial work.  He marries Adrian and they get pregnant.  Apollo Creed has wanted a rematch and financial pressures force Rocky to fight Creed once again. This times he goes beyond the distance and actually defeats Creed to become the champion.

Rocky II is almost as good as the first.  The acting is still top-notch and the characters bring a great deal of seriousness to their roles again.  Watching Rocky and Adrian’s relationship bloom is adorable and makes for a really sweet love story.  The only dislike I have is that Rocky is portrayed as especially dumb, which he is not.  He mistakes condos for condoms and so on.  Where it wins me back is that he retains his heart of gold even when people treat him badly. 

Rocky III- After winning his match with Apollo we get a montage of Rocky winning match after match.  Rocky and Adrian are now very rich.  Rocky has an exhibition match with the wrestler Thunderlips.  Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T, challenges him. They fight in the ring and Rocky loses.  Mickey dies during the fight. Left without a trainer Apollo agrees to train Rocky.  Rocky eventually beats Clubber and wins back his title.

This is where the series starts to get weird.  The addition of Thunderlips, played by Hulk Hogan, is a scene that is funny but inevitably doesn’t really add much to the movie.  Otherwise it’s a good movie.  The growing friendship between Apollo Creed and Rocky shows that both men are good at heart but have a warrior-like respect for each other. It is sad to see Mickey go but it is done well and with dramatic dignity.

Rocky IV- A huge Russian boxer named Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, comes to America.  Apollo challenges him to a boxing match and is killed in the ring.  Rocky decides he will go to Russia to avenge his friend.  He trains in the mountains and eventually is able to defeat Drago.  He gives a rousing speech to the Russian audience, which gives him a standing ovation.

For some reason they added a sentient robot to this movie.  It makes it very goofy.  This movie takes it even more down that road by making the villains over-the-top.  It’s such a product of its time and it is an obvious Cold War statement.   It is a fun movie but it seems to take the serious tone of the series and make it more humorous.

Rocky V- Rocky comes back from Russia and they discover that due to shady accountants they are broke.  So the Balboa family moves back to the streets where they started in Philadelphia.  He goes to work at Mickey’s old gym and takes up training a new boxer named Tommy “The Machine” Gunn. Rocky finds that focusing all his time on his new protégé takes away time from his son.   Tommy is upset because his career isn’t moving fast enough so he calls Rocky out a bar and they get into a brawl.  Rocky wins the street fight and goes home with his family.

Rocky V is the weakest of the movies but it’s certainly not a bad film.  It seems to teach the lesson that violence solves problems.  It also is a downer in a lot of ways.  In the end of the street fight Rocky is still broke and Tommy is still the champion.  So it is really not for anything except pride.

Rocky Balboa- Rocky has retired and owns a restaurant.  His wife Adrian has passed away and he visits her grave regularly.  A sports show takes a computer match-up between the current heavyweight champion Mason “The line” Dixon and Rocky and decides Rocky would be the victor.  Mason then decides to challenge Rocky to an exhibition match.  Rocky is still a sweet guy and helpful to others. His son Robert has lost his way and Rocky helps him find his path as he trains for the fight in Las Vegas.  When he gets there he shows that he still has what it takes to fight hard despite his age.  Like his match with Creed it comes down to a decision and the fight goes to the champion but Rocky still feels like a winner for going the distance.

This was the perfect way to end the series.  I hate seeing Adrian go but adding touches of his life like little Marie and even Spider Rico from the first film were welcome.  What he said “going forward when life hits you hard” is a great message.  The filming during the fight is the most realistic in the whole series and looks like it could have been seen in a pay-per-view.  It really brings the perfection back up to the level it was with the first film.

The Rocky movies are wonderful films and should be enjoyed by anyone.  If you do not desire to see periods where things got silly you can probably watch just Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky Balboa and get the idea of the whole series and love it for what it’s worth.  They are the story of an underdog who beat the odds.  The characters are endearing and the stories are classic.

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