Rocky The Complete Saga – 1976 – 2015
Rocky – 1976
Director John G. Avildsen Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Joe Spinell, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes Screenplay Sylvester Stallone
Synopsis Down and out low ranking boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) gets the shot of a lifetime when he is randomly picked to take on the World Champion Apollo Creed (Weathers). As he struggles to get himself ready for the fight of his life, he takes on a new trainer with old ideas (Meredith) as well as a shy girlfriend (Shire) with an alcoholic brother.
There are plenty of standout moments in this first and most well-rounded (but not by much, surprisingly) story of the series. First of all, the dichotomy of a man who makes his living by his fists being one of the most tender characters in cinematic history. Rocky Balboa is a groove that Stallone found within himself that tells us something about the state of a man in the mid-1970’s. Always taking hits, still moving forward, inch by inch and ever so humble and with an estimable amount of tender mercy. The core of this character is found in Rocky. Only Rocky could see the beauty of the unwanted spinster that he approached with the deliberation, speed and certainty of an iceberg. The thing that is so unique about the character and the film is that despite the miserable circumstance and that he comes out a loser in the big bout, the truer victory is found in the arms of that cast off middle-aged girl no one else noticed. In this way the movie fits within and then transcends the recurring ’70’s theme that there could be no happy ending. This film, as much as anything in popular culture, gave a light to the American citizen in the light of Vietnam, Nixon and the hard economic times of the 1970’s. Like the theme song, Gonna Fly Now, Balboa takes the steps from the bottom to the top. Slowly at first, then after much grunt work, he eventually sprints.
The unique brand of kindness shown by everyone in Rocky’s world is deftly handled. You have tough people saying hard things to one another. There is no one holding back the hard truth of life. No one shows this better than Meredith’s Mick. He is an old gym rat who, like Balboa, never had his break. This is projected in how he treats Rocky before Creed gives him his shot. It’s not that he doesn’t like Rocky, he is disappointed in him and the choice he makes to be an enforcer for a loan shark, Tony Gazzo (Spinell). Even Gazzo the is not a real bad guy, though, as we see with his leniency and soft spot for Rock’s inability to come down hard on a guy behind on payments,. Later he gives a gift of cash for Rocky to prepare for the fight. There is nothing tied to that money. It’s love for a big-hearted guy.
The hardest one to see in the light of kindness in light of his uniquely complex character is Burt Young’s Paulie. He is selfish, crude and with little in the way of social skills. He speaks rudely of his sister and does some unspeakably mean things. It is not difficult to see that he loves her, though. He knows that living with him will only ruin her life, and if he lacks the ability to eloquently state this, he does everything in his meager power to shove her out the door.
Talia Shire’s meek portrayal provides a perfect counterpoint to Rocky’s more direct and loquacious ways. She is a perfect diamond in the rough that could never be seen were it not for Balboa’s tendency to scan every area and recognize every person. We know that while they both are far from perfect, their imperfections work well together. There is no more sensitive and utterly considerate romance I have ever seen on celluloid.
After years of sequels and accelerated levels of violence with each boxing match, the back and forth between champ and challenger seems almost quaint in Rocky. There are some wonderful, funny moments like when Rocky finally gets his nose broken and Mickey tells him it’s actually an improvement. In an excellent high-definition transfer, everything is crystal clear. To this point, it becomes more obvious which scenes take place in a full arena and which shots took place in a sparsely filled warehouse.
Stallone and Avildsen create such a wonderful living document of the time, the film never feels out-of-place. Any time one decides to enter the world they created, they are in it for the duration, and loving every beautiful and tender second.
(***** out of *****)
Paulie: [talking about Adrian] You like her? Rocky: Sure, I like her. Paulie: What’s the attraction? Rocky: I dunno… she fills gaps. Paulie: What’s ‘gaps’? Rocky: I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.
Adrian: Einstein flunked out of school, twice.
Paulie: Is that so? Adrian: Yeah. Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. I think Rocky’s got a good chance. ___
Rocky: I think we make a real sharp couple of coconuts – I’m dumb, you’re shy, whaddaya think, huh?
Rocky: What about my prime, Mick? At least you had a prime! I had no prime, I had nothin’!
Mickey: [to rocky, after round 1 with Apollo] Keep hittin’em in the ribs ya see? Don’t let that bastard breathe!
Apollo Creed: Stay in school and use your brain. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, carry a leather briefcase. Forget about sports as a profession. Sports make ya grunt and smell. See, be a thinker, not a stinker.
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
After each viewing, I am drawn to the most tender moments. They can be strewn in between other, more crude passages. When Rocky is telling Paulie about how he and Adrian “fill gaps” my heart just melts. Then Paulie asks Rocky if she is “ballin’ her.” Poetry.
This is such a strong movie, to find a bad spot is much harder than it will be in future segments, but for now, lets just say that before Rocky goes out for the last round. Mickey finishes talking to him, and then, inexplicably, another guy, who we’ve seen very little of in the rest of the film, catches Rocky and gives him advice that no one can here. Rocky nods a few times and then heads back towards his destiny. Bell’s already rung, pal. What are you doing in this scene at all?
Rocky II – 1979
Written and Directed by Stallone Starring Stallone, Shire, Young, Weathers, Meredith, Burton
Synopsis After taking Creed to a virtual tie, but losing the bout, Rocky tries to make a living outside of boxing. Failing that, he gets a second chance. As he navigates new marriage with a kid on the way, he works with Mickey to expand his skills. The match once again goes to the wire, but this time Rocky is victorious.
For all the glowing descriptions that Rocky merits from fans and critics alike, the second film in the saga is often forgotten. Even I only owned I, III and IV in two formats until Rocky Balboa came out. At that point, I got the complete set on Blu Ray and watched it for only the 2nd and 3rd time in the last couple of years.
My mind’s eye may have been a bit unfair. But only a bit. Rocky II is a good movie and goes a ways to continue the characters as we knew them from the original. The positives are many, and they do outweigh the general feeling of malaise that hangs over the story. Our hero and his wife, trainer, friend are all poor people. They had little before the big fight, and it doesn’t take long for them to not have much afterward.Stallone’s decision to push forward with the theme of destitute living matches the weather and the grey hue throughout. While one can credit the writer / director for trying to stay true to the gravity of life, the first two acts of the film are really not fun to watch.
First of all, you have Rocky spending beyond his means to give his newly pregnant wife the life he thinks she and the child deserve. This is derailed by his inability to read. Stallone bravely soldiers on with his icon. Giving him the role of humble servant, he willingly accepts menial work when he can get it. At one point he sells his beloved car to Paulie just to get rid of the payments. Adrian starts working at the pet shop again. Rocky works at Mickey’s gym. He learns to read. Balboa even stays away from his friend, Tony, the loan shark, who offers him perhaps the best advice on how to make his money work for him.
But humble living isn’t enough. More adversity crosses the path of our hero when Creed begins to chirp about Rocky refusing a rematch. This is due to his pending blindness in one eye. Even Mickey knows this to be true. Creed is tortured by the thought that he may actually have lost to Balboa. Despite Adrian’s protestations, Rocky and Mickey begin training again, even if Rocky cannot fully invest himself into the effort, due to his wife’s lack of support. This leads to Paulie (of course) doing the wrong thing and Adrian giving premature birth and heading into a coma.
The next 15-20 minutes are a shot at poignancy that falls a little short. Sure it’s great that Rocky reads to his wife by day and prays all night. It’s even sweeter that old Mick stays right there by his side. In what world, though, would any boxing organization not allow for a delay in a match due to illness of a boxer’s spouse and premature birth of his first child? That this is not even mentioned by Creed or any of the analysts in the film seems a glaring oversight.
The training sequence comes in two halves. This is a trend throughout the series. First part is always a demonstration of the Rocky lacking motivation. The second half is when Rocky gets it and starts giving it his all. I personally blame this cinematic trick for me never liking exercise growing up. I was always waiting for the part of me that finally understood.
The boxing match makes sense, in that Mick is really trying to protect Balboa’s eye. Seen from this perspective helps the viewer navigate the complete lack of believability in the severe pounding that the boxers administer upon each others. Even today in the era of UFC no one makes that much full impact contact with another person more than maybe three times in a match. Even so, this is nothing compared to what we will see in future matches.
Rocky II does most of the yeoman’s work in the series. What the film has provides grist for the rest of the series. If one goes into it looking for that dramatic Stallone speech that he mastered in other films of the series. For my friend WeMissE, it’s the Oregon between Washington and California. It’s something to get through from where you started to the bright lights and big city that you are heading towards.
(*** out of *****)
Gazo: How’s about investing in condominiums? It’s safe.
Rocky Balboa: Condominiums?
Gazo: Yeah, condominiums.
Rocky Balboa: I never use ’em.
Interviewer: Do you have a criminal record?
Rocky Balboa: Nothin’ worth braggin’ about.
Reporter: Rock, you got anything derogatory to say about the champ?
Rocky Balboa: Derogatory? Yeah. He’s great.
Rocky is punching the heavy bag]
Rocky Balboa: Three, four…
Mickey: Now remember, I want 500 hard ones. Go!
Rocky Balboa: Where was I, seven or eight?
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
All the one liners are the lifeblood of the early Rocky film. This one gets by on them in a big way.
Not sure I was able to buy that the pre-getting it workout Rocky couldn’t catch the chicken, but I am damn sure catching a chicken would help one keep up with Creed.
Rocky III – 1982
Written and Directed by Stallone Starring Stallone, Shire, Weathers, Young, Meredith, Mr. T., Burton, Hulk Hogan
Synopsis Rocky is living the life of a champion. He holds the title for several bouts until he comes across a younger and hungrier challenger, Clubber Lang (Mr. T.) who beats him soundly the same night that Mickey dies. Lost to himself, he finds an ally in Apollo, who takes him to his hometown of L.A. and teaches Balboa some new skills. He pretty much drops those midway through the rematch but wins anyway.
The first Rocky film I saw in the theater and what an incredible ride. The movie was tailor-made for an 11-year-old boy, with the solving problems with the fists and the “I thought you said to be cool” and Creed saying “That WAS cool!” For many years this was my favorite film of the saga and it wasn’t until I saw the next film and realized that these middle 2 films have almost the least to do with the real character of Rocky Balboa. Instead, it’s like some rich, better looking and more muscular and toned guy took the place of the scrapper who appears in the other films. In another way, though, it fits the narrative that this is Rocky’s fairytale phase.
First, let me get to the things that don’t quite fit:
- Rocky is in tremendous shape from the start of the film. None of those guys look like tomato cans, but he also looks less like a heavyweight with all that weight off.
- Mick was in a pretty good place to get medical care if he needed it. At the very least, Rocky or anyone living with him should have known there was a problem there.
- How in the heck does the fight still go on after one fighter physically assaults the other’s aged manager? How is it that charges are not filed?
- Creed is still in magnificent shape, physically and mentally. There is no reason he couldn’t have stepped right in the ring the moment Rocky is carted off in the first match.
- I don’t buy that Creed didn’t have “the eye of the tiger” in the second match. Rocky is distracted as hell and he even arrived late to the match. Creed had trained like a mad man. I buy that he could lose. Let’s not overdo it with the superlatives.
- The training pattern is perhaps the least satisfying of the series, even if we do get a change of venue for the second round. Frank Stallone graduates from the street for the first two films to entertaining the convention in the first round. And what is it with Creed and Stallion hugging it out on the beach while frolicking in the waves?
These are quibbles, though, because when it comes to adrenalized entertainment, Rocky III still fills the bill. There are still some wonderful moments that fit the overall arc of characters, too. Paulie has a nice movie, in his inimitable way. First you have him literally going on a binge instead of asking for a job. Then he complains, essentially, that he is not real happy training in L.A. because blacks “aren’t my people,” and then he hugs Creed the moment Rocky’s arm is raised. My favorite moment in the film is between rounds, when Rocky gets a rinse of water for his mouth. As he finishes, he spits it out to the side of the ring, where a ring hand would normally hold a bucket. Paulie, there for the job and not for the work, is mystified as the water spray hits him full on in the chest. Gold.
The best fight scenes in the entire series happen here. Hulk Hogan is introduced to the world as Thunderlips in a fight similar to every match he’s had since. Mr. T. is a global phenomenon just about to happen. Even if he is not entirely believable as a boxer, he totally works as a menacing antagonist. Most of the best lines in the film are his, and they are instantly quotable to even casual fans of the series.
It really is fun to see Creed step in for a crucial role after he easily could have been written out of the series. He doesn’t last much longer, to be sure, but the memory of his character is mostly a good one. The best scenes for the training is watching how incredibly pissed he gets at Balboa’s lethargy.
One thing you can say is Stallone has an eye for unforgettable faces…and hairdos. Talia Shire breaks with the mold here too, as she gets to sink her teeth into a shouting match scene with Stallone which is really pretty good. Really though, the thing I best remember about Stallone in the Rocky saga is when his character is at his literal wit’s end. He always has his best scenes describing his thoughts about his situation. It’s good drama for an action film.
Let’s not forget the soundtrack, though. From that grand theme to Gonna Fly Now evolving into The Eye of the Tiger. The latter is an instant classic that brought the world to attention in 1982. These were the days when a good song could bring a movie to your attention, but a great song could make a movie necessary viewing. To this day, the song brings simultaneously the cheesiest and most sincere feelings to light.
So this is still a fun film, even if it doesn’t feel like a Rocky film through and through. The guy struggling on the beach in Malibu is definitely not the same person we saw cleaning off the floor of the rendering plant in the last film. It’s not that he is a sellout here. Not at all. It’s just that there is a bit of a gap in the person that Rocky was in the first to films compared to who he becomes here. This is okay, though. The movie is still entertaining as hell and its very easy to take off the shelf even these many years later.
(**** out of *****)
Interviewer: Do you hate Rocky?
Clubber Lang: No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!
Clubber Lang: [Calling to Adrian; Smooth talks] Hey, Woman. Hey, Woman! Listen here. Since your old man ain’t got no heart, maybe you like to see a real man. I bet you stay up late every night dreamin’ you had a real man, don’t ya? I’ll tell you what. Bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I’ll show you a real man.
Rocky Balboa: [loses his temper completely; Screaming] You want it, you got it! YOU GOT IT!
Clubber Lang: [before the rematch with Rocky] Hey, boy. Hey, boy. After I crucify him, you next.
Apollo Creed: Just stay outta my face, chump.
[turns his back on Clubber]
Clubber Lang: Don’t turn your back on me, sucka!
[he shoves Apollo and a melee breaks out]
Rocky Balboa: [after the scuffle is broken up] I thought you said be cool!
Apollo Creed: That WAS cool!
Apollo Creed: [during the rematch with Lang] He’s gettin’ killed out there!
Paulie: No, no, no! He ain’t gettin’ killed; he’s gettin’ mad!
Clubber Lang: I’m going to bust you up.
Rocky Balboa: Go for it.
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
It really is a visceral thrill to see the tide turn in the match, so I have to go with the moment (above) that Paulie points out what is really happening to Balboa in the ring in the second match.
The back and forth between Creed and Balboa about the “favor” pops up during strange times and doesn’t really lend itself to repeated viewings.
Rocky IV – 1985
Written and Directed by Stallone Starring Stallone, Shire, Weathers, Young, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielson, Burton, Michael Pataki
Synopsis Creed takes on Russian Ivan Drago (Lundgren) in an exhibition match that goes horribly wrong. Rocky travels to Russia to take the fight to Drago in this Cold War fighting summit. Guess who wins.
Cited by many casual fans as their favorite, this is definitely the low point of the series. The established formula of the series (open, loss, drama, training, win) is followed with almost no effort at making any of the aspects of the story seem believable. Rocky and Creed are now buddies, enjoying the fruits of their labor, when inexplicably, Creed gets a feeling he just as easily could have gotten one film earlier. Why does he have to take on Drago, when his only goal the last time was helping Rocky get back on his feet? Did Creed’s feeling of futility just take a hiatus? We all know the reason. It’s because Action Jackson did not write the damn script for either film. So instead of gathering Weathers’ obvious charisma that helped win the last film, Stallone makes him the sacrificial lamb. That makes 2 major characters lost in 2 films, with no one but Rocky, Jr. and a robot to take their place. Ugh.
One of the best things about this film is also its biggest drawback: the soundtrack. Highlighted in both the film and music is James Brown’s Living In America, which embodies the excess of the ’80’s in the best way possible. Follow that with Survivor’s Burning Heart, Robert Tepper’s No Easy Way Out and John Cafferty’s Hearts on Fire, and you have as many hits as any soundtrack that year. The problem is, with so much music at the ready, Stallone had no hesitancy but to let that rule the day. He literally lets the entire Robert Tepper song play through in the middle section of the film, breaking into an unexplainable and incoherent collection of imagery that does nothing for the plot and really only fills up screen time. As the film finishes the 2nd half of its training segments, it becomes clear that the movie is more a montage than it is a story.
Lundgren, who has charisma, if not necessarily acting talent, gets to show none of it here. His words are filled up with the blank slate of Brigitte Nielson and Pataki playing a Russian stooge, whose job it is to look indignant at the excesses of America and smug in the victories of Mother Russia.
Shire is wasted this time around. She is made to lose faith in her husband and then throw in with him when everything seems most desperate. Before this, it is hard not to notice that she does not sit next to Creed’s wife for his fight versus Drago. Why would she not sit next to the wife of a friend? Because a Stallone wrote this, and at this point in his career, what the women do in his films is not as important to him as it was earlier. It’s a shame, though, to waste her already exhibited talent on a few worthless scenes.
Young and Burton are the only ones left in the corner at this time, and although the heart wants to grow fonder of both, it is hard to do, when their roles are cut down to a nub. At least Young still knows how to make an ass of himself in a press conference and it’s fun seeing him trying to duck out of the flying wood debris that Rocky chops.
Stallone, who pretty clearly was doing chemicals to make his workouts count at this point (he gets nabbed for it later), looks ridiculous going “natural” in the Russian wild, while having Drago take to the needle. Creating an image, to be sure, but it could not be more exaggerated than if Stallone gave himself platform shoes to appear taller in the ring.
The ham-fisted approximation of Russia is funny in retrospect. Gorbachev is shown as a dude who is swayed by Rocky’s genial winning ways, when reality had him far ahead of the backwards perception of Russian life presented here. That happened in a lot of movies, of course. Here though, when Rocky notes the change of heart of the Russian audience while he gets his head pounded off, he speaks about how he’s been changed into understanding Russian people in the process. What change? What? Absolutely no words had been uttered by Balboa about Russia in the entirety of the series, much less the film. He hardly uttered a bad word about Drago. It is, of course, Stallone speaking to the movie going public about his own feelings. He is just too lazy to have it make sense – to have anything make sense – in this cashing in of American jingoism.
(*1/2 out of *****)
There is very little to remember in this film, beyond Paulie, of course.
Duke: What’s happening out there?
Rocky: He’s winning… I see three of him out there!
Paulie: Hit the one in the middle.
Duke: Right! Hit the one in the middle.
Paulie: I know sometimes I act stupid and I say stupid things, but you kept me around and other people would have said “drop that bum”. You give me respect. You know it’s kinda hard for me to say these kinda things, cuz it ain’t my way, but if I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I’d wanna be you. You’re all heart, Rock.
Nicoli Koloff: Who are you?
Paulie: Who am I? I’m the unsilent majority, bigmouth.
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
Living In America. Right down to the robe being applied post-performance. Eddie Murphy, eat your heart out, indeed.
They should have called this episode Montage: The Movie.
Rocky V – 1990
Directed by Avildsen Written by Stallone Starring Stallone, Shire, Young, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Meredith, Richard Gant, Burton
Synopsis Rocky is old, broke, brain-damaged and forced to retire. He works on the relationship with his son (Sage) and re-opens Mickey’s old Gym. While there he starts to train Tommy Gunn (Morrison) and finds some success, at the cost of his time spent with Rocky Jr. George Washington Duke hijacks Gunn before he wins the championship. When the crowd turns on Gunn, he challenges Rocky, who refuses until Gunn punches Paulie. Then they bare knuckle fight. Guess who wins.
Trying to rekindle the magic of the first film, Stallone hires that film’s director and brings the script back to the dregs of Philadelphia. While it ultimately fails to connect with the feeling of the original, it isn’t close to being as bad as IV. The brain damage and the slur are back as is the kind-hearted nobody we last saw in the second film. This film is confused in the direction it ultimately wants to go. Part of it is a rich kid caught on the wrong side of the tracks, but once Jr. learns to fight for and by himself, he fades into the background with no complaints.
Shire has only one chance to shine here and, for the most part, adds value by showing all old things can be new again when you are broke. Burt Young is marginalized as well, if used inexplicably as a scapegoat for – go figure – signing over P.O.A. for both Rocky and Adrian to a shady accountant who gambles and loses it all.
As the new blood, Morrison looks less like an actor than a boxer. Richard Gant does a Don King that has absolutely no nuance. Yes, we already knew King was corrupt, and this tells us only what the most basic of our imaginings allow. And what is with the bimbo red-head? Why would a woman who looks like she’s just turned 40 with fake everything appeal to the “youngest champ” in the history of boxing?
Speaking of young, Sage Stallone, as Jr. reprises is own role, moving from age 9 to 15 in the film, even though the film takes place within a year of the earlier entry.
Rocky as a character seems half developed, as well. Meredith is brought back for some historical memory shots and to root him on, Obi-Wan Kenobi style during the climax. It feels like some of this film was left on the cutting room floor, and Rocky was rumored to have been killed off in this film. That did not happen. By the time we get to the end, we are ready for it to be over.
(**1/2 out of *****)
Overweight Drinker: Yo Rock, you need some help?
Rocky: No, guys; ain’t no pie eating contest.
Rocky Balboa: Well, maybe I’ll take you upstairs and violate you like a parking meter.
Adrian: It’ll cost you a quarter.
George W. Duke: It’s like your Mark Twain once said – “Virtue has never been as respectable as money.”
Paulie: Who’s Twain?
Rocky Balboa: He was a painter.
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
When Rocky actually does a few street fight moves while street fighting Gunn. If he had actually finished the fight, it would have been more memorable.
Rocky walks away TWICE before putting Gunn down. Oh, and the soundtrack is awful. Horrible corporate rap estimations and an Elton John song to top it off.
Rocky Balboa – 2006
Written and Directed by Stallone Starring Stallone, Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Hughes, Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Pedro Lovell
Synopsis 16 years after his fight with Tommy Gunn, Balboa enjoys a comfortable existence as a restaurant owner. Paulie is back at the meat plant. Adrian has died. His son (Milo) has grown distant. An ESPN computer simulation gets Rocky interested in boxing again. Don’t ask how. The boxer he faces Mason Dixon (Tarver) is pretty cool though. And when he fights, you might not guess who wins.
It’s all back. The tenderness. The heart. And as Duke puts it, the pure horse power. This is undoubtedly the best film since the original, and it gets better with each viewing. So many things work well in this film, and really only one thing doesn’t work. Let’s get to the many highlights though.
The characters are human. Stallone and Young live and breathe humanity in this story. Both are so full and complex characters and the performances are as brave as they are touching. They embrace their age with a grace unseen in most movies. Each of them are brought to rage, and each is brought to tears. But each of them don’t ever stop. I can count the several times I have seen Stallone act this well on one hand. It is refreshing and depressing all at once when one considers how many films like Daylight and Demolition Man littered through is career.
Paulie and Rocky swap their lines like playful jabs. They speak plainly and do not spare one another. It’s a bittersweet pleasure to see these two going at it, years after someone younger and more vibrant than either of them has passed on. It’s a cruelty each of them wears like someone might wear plain clothes to church. They still believe. They just believe in plain clothes.
The best character, though, is Marie (Hughes). Her damaged soul provides a perfect counterpoint for Rocky’s. The way he handles their relationship is deft, delicate and with proper reverence. The sad part about Adrian is that she really had no flaws after the first film. She was perfect and was just there. I think that both Stallone and Shire must have realized this. She even made a statement supporting the editorial decision. We finally get to see Stallone flex his acting and writing chops in Rocky’s kindness for kindness’ sake. Hughes is not a straight up replica of Adrian either. That they are not a couple makes their relationship that much more resonant and gives her room to grow.
The relationship with Steps (Kelly III)would have been cheeseball in any other film. This time we have Steps as something other than an acolyte. He and Rocky come to like one another on their own terms, and not an adjunct to Balboa’s relationship with Marie.
Spider Rico (Lovell) is a brilliant addition to the script. His inclusion gives a 360 degree feeling to Rocky’s world. His simple character mirrors Balboa’s own, and to find his role in preparing Rocky for what lay ahead is touching and beautiful. It’s a character that should have been easy to forget. Indeed, Stallone spent 3 movies forgetting characters like these. Somewhere along the way, he found out that they were the heart of Rocky’s world.
The writing is sublime. Stallone is as inspired as he’s ever been putting the pen to paper. This story means something significant to him. The characters and story, taken for granted for so long, are brought off the shelf, dusted and put in the ring in all their ragged glory.There are so many good storylines in this one. Some of them don’t last the length of the story, but it all feels right.
The character aside from Marie that benefits most from this writing is that of Rocky, Jr. (Ventimiglia). His story is a believable one, well acted and provides an excellent touchstone into what makes Rocky such a great character. The speech that he gives his son as Jr. begs him to please reconsider fighting is easily the best soliloquy in any of the films outside the first. It provides a key that brings the entire series home for its fans. The capping line (quoted below) is genius in its simplicity and power.
The training sequence is my favorite of the series. It is wonderful seeing Rock and these old dogs working on the one thing that he still has to offer, straight up power. Burton makes the most of his few scenes as usual.
Tarver’s Mason Dixon is somewhere between Apollo Creed and Tommy Gunn. He’s not a complete jerk, but he’s not really allowed to be a nice guy. He is somewhat underdeveloped, to be sure, but then so was Creed until the 3rd film. Having him just be another brute would have been a mistake. Really, though, it’s not about who he is, so much as it is that Rocky has inside of himself.
The fight is definitely the best of the series. It looks and sounds real. You have a visceral intensity and more in this film than any but the first, a vested interest in Rocky’s success. The damage received by each is incredible, of course, but having Dixon break his hand early and keep going does much to add to his character and allows Rocky to have a chance.
The lone weak spot for me is the concept of computer simulated fights. I have never seen these before or since the film. Really, they are unneeded, given the other motivators outlined in the plot. They come across about as realistic and necessary as those Korean animated re-enactments.
That this is the second best Rocky film is easy to say. This is also the second best work Stallone has ever done. It’s the difference between him and his former Planet Hollywood partners. It’s the difference between him and most action stars except Eastwood. It is this movie I will think of most when watching Creed.
(****1/2 out of *****)
Rocky Balboa: You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.
[taps on the inside of his hand]
I’d hold you up to say to your mother, “this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.” And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.
Duke: You know all there is to know about fighting, so there’s no sense us going down that same old road again. To beat this guy, you need speed – you don’t have it. And your knees can’t take the pounding, so hard running is out. And you got arthritis in your neck, and you’ve got calcium deposits on most of your joints, so sparring is out.
Paulie: I had that problem.
Duke: So, what we’ll be calling on is good ol’ fashion blunt force trauma. Horsepower. Heavy-duty, cast-iron, piledriving punches that will have to hurt so much they’ll rattle his ancestors. Every time you hit him with a shot, it’s gotta feel like he tried kissing the express train. Yeah! Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs!
Rocky Balboa: Hey yo, champ. Aren’t you a little scared?
Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon: I don’t get scared.
Rocky Balboa: [turns and walks away with his son] You know, I think you try harder when you’re scared… That’s when it’s worked best for me.
Rocky Balboa: My son’s coming over tonight, so I’m going to have something special made for him.
Paulie: Italian food made by a bunch of Mexicans doesn’t sound so special to me, Rock.
Marie: It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.
Rocky Balboa: Ya know they always say if you live in one place long enough, you are that place.
Paulie: I ain’t no talking building, Rock.
Rocky Balboa: You know your kid sorta resembles ya. He’s got that thick Irish hair, you know.
Marie: …Yeah it’s the other one.
[Rocky looks at the dark skinned one]
Rocky Balboa: …Yeah?
Marie: His father was from Jamaica.
Rocky Balboa: Jamaica… European… Was you on a cruise ship or somthin’ ?
Marie: [smiles] Not exactly.
Marie: The last thing to age on somebody is their heart
Paulie: Are you angry because Adrian left you?
Rocky Balboa: She didn’t leave, she died.
Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon: It’s already over.
Rocky Balboa: There aint nothin’ over till it’s over.
Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon: Where’s that from, the 80’s?
Rocky Balboa: That’s probably the 70’s.
All quotes courtesy of IMDB.com
Wow. Is this ever hard to choose. So many great moments, but the dialogue he shares with his son is a pivotal point in the series. This is Rocky to a T.
There is only one. The animated simulation fight. Adds nothing to the story. Just a little silly.
Creed – 2015
Director Ryan Coogler Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish Screenplay Coogler and Aaron Covington
Synopsis Review Quotes Best moment Weakest moment
All coming in November.