Much like The Evil Dead 2 Rocky II is basically a remake of the first film with more money and a different ending.
We catch up the Italian Stallion directly after the fight at the end of Rocky I as he’s being driven to the hospital. One thing I do love about these films is that the first five seem to follow on directly from the previous film creating a seemingly long unbroken narrative (like Back to the Future) as each movie begins with the last ten minutes of the previous installment.
In the hospital he gets given some shit from Apollo and talk of a rematch abounds, which is odd as at the end of the fight in the previous film Apollo specifically says, “there aint gonna be no rematch.” This bout of memory loss brought on by sequel-itis (or possibly by the fact someone just punched him in the face for 15 rounds) fuels speculation that Rocky and Apollo will fight again but Adrian, Rocky’s wife, quickly kiboshes that as it appears Rocky might be blind in his right eye and more trauma to his eye will result in full blindness.
So Rocky and Adrian get married, spend money they don’t have but they assume they’ll have from Rockys endorsement deals and Adrian become pregnant. However when Rocky goes to do his commercial he can’t read. Or at least he can’t read very well. Either way there are no endorsements, no money and Rocky can’t fight because he could go blind.
Enter Apollo who starts a PR campaign to shame Rocky into the ring, including running a full page ad in the paper declaring him to be the “Chicken Stallion”. I think Italian Chicken might have made more sense since Chicken Stallion conjures images in my head of some sort of Godless chimera that I for one would not want to fight. An Italian Chicken? Oh I’d kick seven kinds of shit out of an Italian Chicken. A Chicken Stallion? Not so much.
Rocky knows he needs to fight to support his family but no one wants to be part of it. Mickey turns him away because of the potential blindness but gives him a job because Rocky starts to cry. So Rocky is now working for Mickey at Mighty Micks gym doing monkey work and being mocked by crudely drawn stereotypes of men who are dicks. Adrian goes back to her job at the pet shop (Adrian going back to this job is almost a leitmotif of this series of films) and is getting more and more preggers all the time.
Then Apollo, class act that he is, goes on TV and calls Rocky a chump or a bum (I forget) and suddenly Mickey wants to help him fight and Adrian still says “You will go blind. Someone is going to punch you in the face so hard you will go blind.” That for me is a big turn off for any situation, once the consequence is blindness I’m out.
So against his wife’s wishes Rocky begins to train in the first training montage or the Rocky’s Shit Montage. His heart isn’t in it. Mickey’s yelling at him, Paulie watches in disgust. He’s doing the big running bits but he cant get up the stairs. Its frustrating to watch and when you give yourself over to these films and really get into them those training montages are always a big highlight so one where he can’t train was annoying and I felt like Mickey and wanted to shout at someone.
So Paulie, being the good brother he is, goes to see his heavily pregnant sister at her job and shouts at her for not supporting her husband’s desperate attempt to blind himself through physical violence. She collapses after yelling back at him and gets rushed to hospital. She gives birth prematurely and falls into a coma, which is something I think only happens in movies but being that I’m a teacher and not a pregnant woman doctor (a doctor for pregnant women and not a female doctor who is expecting) I can’t say for sure.
So Rocky begins a vigil at her bedside (even going so far as to not meet his son until she wakes up) and Mickey gives him a heart to heart and sits with him.
And then miracle of miracles she wakes up and says, “you need to do one thing for me…win…win!” and Mickey says my favourite line of the movie “WELL, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?” and boom! Second, better montage and now Rocky’s killing it, lifting all kinds of weight, punching shit and then running with that awesome music (you know the music I mean) playing.
Now fight night comes and its pretty much the same beats as Rocky I. Same fighters, same trainers but this time the outcome changes when Rocky manages to knock Apollo down but falls down too and with the referee counting it’s a race to see who will get up but Apollo can’t do it so Rocky stands up as the new heavyweight champion of the world.
I did a bit of research on this and apparently because Rocky got the punch in that knocked Apollo down it wouldn’t matter if Rocky had stayed down, Apollo would still lose as the ref would judge Rocky’s fall as a slip. However I did enjoy the movie-ness of having it come down to which of the fighters had that last bit of energy or will or, to use a term thrown about throughout these films, the Heart to get up again.
So now Rocky’s the heavyweight champion of the world, he did not go blind even though I saw his right eye took a beating and the movie ends.
Now I enjoyed the movie more as a follow up to the first than as a movie by itself. Now I know you can say that about a lot of sequels but I can happily watch Empire Strikes Back, Dark Knight, Two Towers, Terminator 2, Aliens, Godfather Part 2 or Die Hard 2 without needing to watch the first film first whereas I would never sit down and just watch Rocky II without having watched Rocky I recently. Its an unneccesary film in a lot of ways as it seems built around simply getting Rocky the belt so that they can explore being a rich champion in future films. As the middle film in the I II and III trilogy (the films can be judged as three different trilogies but more on that later) it works well as a bridge between Rocky I’s gritty character study and Rocky III’s pantomime insanity. It retains some of Rocky I’s grit but dilutes it with a lot of silly stuff like comas, cavemen suits and the shite that Rocky buys when he’s “rich”.
Because I’ll forget to go back to it the three trilogies are the I II and III trilogy, which shows Rocky’s rise to glory with the quick misstep of getting the shit beaten out of him by Mr. T (nothing to be ashamed of) before he remembers his roots and becomes a true champion.
The second trilogy is III IV and V which is the silly trilogy and these are the films which I think gave birth to the parody idea of the sports movie being all montages, rousing speeches and slightly homoerotic beach runs.
Finally the I III and VI (Rocky Balboa) trilogy which I will talk about later.
If I remember.
To be continued.