Rocky II (1979) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Rocky II is the most delicate entry in the long-running series. Set directly after the events in the first film, Balboa and his opponent Apollo Creed find themselves laid up in the same hospital for over-night observation. Unable to sleep and temporarily bound to a wheelchair, Rocky (Stallone) quietly opens the door to Creed’s room and asks the champ, “Did you give me your best?”. Small moments like these are sprinkled throughout the movie and it’s a richer experience for it. Stallone has taken over directing duties from OSCAR winner John G. Avildsen, and it is remarkable how consistent the two films are in tone and visual quality. The deserted Philly streets of the first picture, which were symbolic of the isolation and despair felt by its characters, have been replaced by a Philadelphia that feels lived in but alive. People on the streets recognize the slugger and with Balboa’s new-found popularity comes the responsibilities of public life.

Once out of the hospital Rocky promptly takes his girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire) to the zoo, where he proposes in an awkward and clumsy manner in front of the tiger’s cage. The two are married and before long they are moving from Rocky’s dive apartment to a house in a suburban neighborhood. Managers and agents are hot to place Rocky into commercial and endorsement deals, but his lack of acting prowess and slurred speech pattern make for a disastrous result on-set. Left with a damaged eye from the beating he withstood at the hands of the Champ, Balboa is pressured to retire and forced to work a variety of odd jobs to pay the mounting bills. Adding to the pressure is the news that Adrian is expecting, and Rocky’s job prospects look bleak.

Creed (Carl Weathers) is not the loquacious, care-free character this time out, the hate-mail he receives from fans disapproval of the decision in his favor, has ignited a hate for Balboa, and a desire to engage in a rematch with the slugger from Philly. He goes on the nightly sports cast and calls out the now retired boxer. Creed even takes out ads in the newspaper, goading the Italian Stallion to face him again. Leading to a scene in which Rocky asks Mickey (Burgess Meredith) to train him for another go at the Heavyweight title.

Just as in the previous film, Mickey and Rocky set out to prepare for battle with Creed. Training methods range from chasing a chicken, to pounding steel with a sledgehammer. Something is off and Mickey can see it, Rocky’s heart isn’t in it fully, the resistance he’s faced from Adrian has left him feeling guilty and doubtful. Then, disaster strikes. Adrian goes into an early labor, she safely delivers the child but she has slipped into a coma. It is during this passage that Stallone shines as a director, that it’s as moving as anything in the climactic battle is a credit to writer/director/star.

The final act is composed of the run up-to and final match. It is a brutal and thrilling segment that is even more vicious than the fight that concluded the original picture. The outcome is handled well and anyone that doesn’t get at least slightly emotionally invested in these characters, should have their pulse checked. Composer Bill Conti delivers another rousing score that improves upon his themes established in the original. Rocky II is the slowest moving and arguably the most emotionally satisfying of all the sequels.

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

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