It’s Franchise Friday featuring Rocky movies! Let’s get to it.
June 19, 2015: Rocky (1976)
Q. This was a first-watch for Johnny and a second-watch for Joanna (though, it’s been years). So, based on our fuzzy, limited knowledge/memory of Rocky, what was your primary takeaway from the movie?
Joanna: Sylvester Stallone kind of owned my heart in Rocky. It’s been probably 10 or so years since I watched this movie and I had forgotten how endearing the dude is. And knowing Sly wrote the script and story makes it all the better. But back to the character… For most of the movie, Rocky is a sad sack. His boxing ‘career’ isn’t going as planned. He has no real friends. He tries to help people with little reception (I’m looking at you, Marie). But he cares for his turtle and fish and pines for Adrian, the mousy girl who works at a pet shop. Sly’s performance is understated and may just be his natural way of speaking, but it’s also brilliant and flawless for the role. He’s a big tough guy who just happens to genuinely care for small things—i.e. Adrian and the turtles. Plus—that first date? Fighting for the right to spend 10 lousy minutes at an ice skating rink? That’s gold. Ooey gooey, rainbows-and-bunnies, adorable gold.
Johnny: Everyone knows Rocky. Even if you haven’t seen it, you know something from it. The stairs. The “Adriaaaaan” ending. The music. So watching it for the first time, finally, there was a nice sense of familiarity already. The one thing I really did not know was what Adrian looked like. I didn’t know who played her (hey man, I only just saw The Godfather for the first time maybe 4 years ago—many staple but non-horror movies just never made it to my radar growing up) and I did not know what she looked like. I really had no specific expectation, but I guess my unspoken assumption would be that one of the biggest, macho-est action stars ever would’ve been crushing/flirting with more the standard 70s feathered-blonde-hair, waist-length fur coat, high-heeled, roller girl disco bunny type. Whatever your stereotypical picture of a 70s sexpot is, that’s probably what I’d have imagined Adrian would be. So when I realized the quiet, bookish looking girl Rocky was…stalking…from the pet shop was Adrian, I looked at Joanna and said, “Adrian’s a nerd?” But Rocky digging on this nerdy girl, back before being a geek was fashionable, makes him all the more loveable. Plus, he had a ripped up mattress leaning against his apartment wall with a big ass knife stuck in it. That was pretty cool.
June 26, 2015: Rocky II (1978)
Q. What was your main takeaway from Rocky II?
Joanna: I’ve seen Rocky II once before (immediately after watching its predecessor). Now, years later, the only thing I could specifically remember about it was that Rocky wore a caveman costume in a commercial (and looked ridiculous).
After watching it again—one week after the first film—I see it as something a little different. Really, it’s just a bizarro, alternate universe version of Rocky. The sequel’s story flips on its side, creating just enough of a difference so you’re not watching the same movie (when really, you kind of are). In Rocky II, the film begins with Rocky high on life—he went the distance with the big bad Apollo Creed after all! He got the girl, money in his pockets, a cool car, and he’s retired from boxing. But things quickly deteriorate for Rocky when he realizes the only thing he’s got going for him is boxing (and a newly pregnant Adrian, of course). In Rocky, it’s reversed—he starts low and gains momentum. No worries though, Rocky finds his purpose again when Creed (again) challenges him to a fight—a rematch. The snag? Adrian’s pretty anti-boxing at this point. But the best part of the movie belongs to Adrian. She sadly goes into a coma after giving birth to a (healthy) premature baby. When she comes to, she and Rocky see their baby for the first time. Rocky Jr. is his name. Adrian then looks to Rocky (Sr.) and says, “There’s just one thing I want you to do for me… WIN.”
That right there is a tremendous moment. Of course, Rocky does just that. Apollo Creed, you’re officially done (as a boxer).
Johnny: Rocky II, in which our titular hero buys a tiger-adorned leather jacket and drives a badass Trans Am. Since the movie picks up right after the fight with Apollo Creed, I assume it’s supposed to still be 1976, though that badass Trans Am is a ’79, which is the year this sequel came out. No big deal. Love watching Rocky driving around in that thing. The thing about this movie to me is just how weird the setup for the final fight is. Rocky’s decision to retire after the first fight makes sense—don’t want to go blind. But since he goes and spends all the money he makes due to his newfound fame, and things start to dry up because he can’t actually perform in commercials and such, he finds that he needs the money quite badly—he’s gonna be a father after all. So the crazy rematch between Balboa and Creed is just a (big) paycheck for him. The need to make money for your family is obviously a big incentive, but cinematically, it made the whole final event feel a little weird. Sure, you could tell Creed’s goading was getting to him. But the final fight just lacked the hunger (metaphorical, not actual…because he was probably actually pretty hungry, being broke and all) that the first fight had. No big deal though. Love watching those two dudes wail on each other.
July 3, 2015: Rocky III (1982)
Q. Neither of us had seen Rocky III, so… main takeaway(s)?
Joanna: I have two big takeaways from Rocky III. One, Apollo Creed becomes #TeamRocky (yea!). And, two, Clubber Lang (Mr. T) is a Dick with a capital D. Seriously, there are zero saving qualities about the guy. B.A. Baracus he is not. Sure, Apollo Creed was cocky, but he had a right to be and then Rocky hurt Creed’s pride twice. So when the young, hungry Clubber challenges Rocky to a fight, inexplicably mouths off to Creed just before said fight, and then beats Rocky in the ring right after the crusty yet lovable Mickey dies, everything is just plain wrong. It’s depression city for Rocky—and Clubber’s just on top of his angry little world. See? WRONG.
So, what’s Rocky to do at his lowest point possible? Get refocused by your ex-opponent—Apollo Creed—who just wants to see Clubber Lang go down in flames. And it’s all about that “eye of the tiger.” But again, it’s Adrian who puts the final touches on Rocky’s drive. In the end, it’s a great fight—and in my opinion, it’s a better fight than in the first two films. Why? Because you really want Rocky to knock Clubber’s teeth out. The final beat down is well worth the wait. “It’s the thrill of the fight…” F.U., Clubber!
New favorite thing:
Johnny: Unfortunately, I fell asleep before the final fight in Rocky III (this has nothing to do with the quality of the movie—it’s something I have to deal with all the time, not being able to stay awake through movies). But after Mickey dies, you know he’s gonna win. The thing I took away the most from R3 is Mr. T. It’s kinda weird seeing him in this light, having grown up on DC Cab and Mr. T’s excellent Saturday morning cartoon (and also eating his breakfast cereal). He’s certainly not the lovable denim-vested, gold-chained, fool-pitying, mystery-solving gymnastics coach I grew up with.
July 10, 2015: Rocky IV (1985)
Q. It’s time to see Rocky fight the Russian! Takeaways?
Joanna: After my justifiable distaste for Clubber Lang in Rocky III, I was curious to see if I would feel the same resentment for Dolph Lundgren’s Drago – the big bad Russian. And while the dude kills Apollo Creed (WTF), I didn’t hate him. Clubber had deep anger issues that stemmed from who knows where. But Drago was born and bred to kill – so, I don’t really fault him. He’s just a machine. A huge, nearly unstoppable machine—that works out with fellow machines. Literally. The montage where Drago and Rocky train for their big fight is absurd fun. Drago with machine sounds and robots. Rocky with rocks, boulders, running, nature, etc. Perfect. Rocky was back to basics and Drago was the future of fighting. Until he wasn’t… Go U.S.A.! Best Rocky poster of ‘em all…
Johnny: Rocky IV has got to be the best one out of the series. No one ever told me this. If someone had told me how awesome Rocky IV was I would have watched this movie 20 years ago instead of in 2015. It could really be watched completely separate from the rest of the series and just be a really fun, kinda over the top (Over the Top, heh) 80s movie. One that would feature a robot and Dolph Lundgren. I don’t need much else from my movies. Throw on the awesome soundtrack, including scoring by Vince “Transformers” DiCola, and this is a movie I should’ve watched as a 10-year-old in 1988.
July 17, 2015: Rocky V (1990)
Q. First time watch for both. Thoughts?
Joanna: For me, the biggest shift in Rocky V is the sudden ‘90s feel. For the past couple of movies, it’s been all about the ‘80s—the clothes, the look, the amazing music, the social commentary. And now it’s 1990 and we have a retired Rocky training—a la Mickey—Tommy Gunn, a dude who looks like Steve Sanders’ bulky twin (or Stooge from Night of the Demons). And instead of a Survivor/John Cafferty fueled ST, we get some not-so-great hip hop and rap (e.g. MC Hammer and SNAP). But… what saves Rocky V from drifting into obscurity is its final fight. Tommy lets the fame and money get the best of him and he drops Rocky—and then he wants to fight Rocky. But our hero doesn’t agree to an official match, so instead the two share a pretty one-sided rumble on the streets in front of all the people (and local news) that truly matter. The people of Philadelphia. Rocky’s people. And it’s glorious.
Johnny: What the hell, Rocky V music, quit being a jerk. I love hip hop…but not the terrible stuff this movie uses on its soundtrack. If Grand Master B ever actually recorded his rap album (well, he did record one terrible song), it would probably sound like the Rocky V soundtrack. For a fun (half) hip hop soundtrack, see Nightmare on Elm Street 5. Other than that though, I did enjoy this movie. Though it was certainly the lowest rung on the original Rocky cinc-tology ladder, it’s still a fun enough affair, and if it had better music, was edited a little differently and maybe had a different actor in the Tommy Gunn role, the movie would probably be looked at a bit less negatively than it is now. I really love the final street fight. It’s overblown and goofy and reminded me of the They Live brawl in a weird kind of way. You know what other fight I love? The Rock v. Dominic Turetto. That was fun. Anyway. The ending credits to the movie are kinda fun too. Like just putting a cap on the whole thing (they assumed); some of it got me a little emotional (with two small sons, it’s impossible for me to see a dramatized version of a man becoming a father without getting emotional, so).
July 24, 2015: Rocky Balboa (2006)
Q. Time to wrap up the series…
Joanna: Sixteen years later, we get Rocky Balboa. It’s quite clear this film sets out to recapture the magic and sincerity of the original. The tone is very different from the sequels. Rocky is much older, sadder (RIP Adrian)—and back to being fairly awkward when speaking to people. To find some sort of closure with boxing and presumably Adrian’s death, Rocky agrees to a final fight—against someone who is 30+ years younger. They fight and Rocky goes the distance, though he isn’t declared the winner. But that doesn’t matter; the people (his people) are chanting his name. He’s a legend. And it all works beautifully.Rocky Balboa is a good movie. With that said, if I’m going to randomly pick to watch a Rocky flick, it’s going to be in the Rocky III-V range. Montages and ‘80s anthems, those are the real winners. (I kid, I kid)
Johnny: I had a bit of hard time stepping into the world of Rocky Balboa (the movie, not the dude). The past couple of entries, which the world was 16 years removed from at the time of RB’s release, were too fresh in my mind and the tone had shifted in those.
Though Rocky has his ups and downs, personally and financially, in the sequels, after Rocky II he’s never really in the same place again and the movies feel less like Oscar-worthy dramas and more like tough dude, training montage, 80s fight romps. 2006’s Rocky Balboa takes things back to the first movie a bit. It’s got the same vibe. But it’s missing one major component. Adrian. That was a bummer, and the strained relationship with his son was too, though it was fun to see him become part of Rocky’s entourage. There’s also a weird disconnect for me between the Stallone of the 70s/80s and the Stallone of today. So it felt odd having Expendables Stallone talking and acting like Rocky.