Plot: In the wake of the epic clash between Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Apollo (Carl Weathers), the tension hasn’t lowered and Apollo even tries to continue the brawl as the fighters are mending at the hospital. Creed is irate that someone managed to go the distance with him, let alone an unknown like Rocky, so he begins to demand a rematch, but Rocky isn’t interested. Meanwhile, he and Adrian (Talia Shire) reap some of the perks from such a high profile fight and improve their lifestyle, though of course, Rocky goes overboard and finds himself in need of cash. His eclectic persona makes sponsorship deals tough, so soon he is back at the meat packing plant. As he tries to move on, he is confronted by constant taunts from Apollo, not to mention the reality that Adrian is pregnant. He is also haunted by the idea that the fight was a fluke, but does he have what it takes to tangle with the champ one more time?
Entertainment Value: This sequel picks up right where Rocky left off and feels like a real continuation, but Rocky II isn’t able to capture the same kind of magic, despite being a rock solid movie. I like that Apollo is obsessed with a rematch, as it fits his character like a glove and overall, I like the narrative here, but I do think the Adrian thread slows things down a lot. I understand why it is there, as Rocky’s love for family is more than evident in his character, but not much is done with her and in truth, her role in the finale feels hollow and detached. The real draw is the character development put into Rocky, as he struggles with his new fame and short lived fortune, as well as his ongoing rivalry with Creed. This lays a lot of groundwork that pays off in later movies, as the two heat up the conflict to new levels and of course, that would lead to a friendship forged in competition down the road. The story is predictable, but fun to watch and you gotta love the iconic sequence of Rocky running the streets with a horde of supporters, as that is a magic movie moment. I also love the fight in the finale, as it has that raw, go for broke feel that the Rocky duels are known for. So while not as resonant as the original, Rocky II still earns a high recommendation.
Although later installments would turn Rocky into a superhero or some kind of steroid monster, Sylvester Stallone’s early turns in the role remain some of his best work and even in those weaker installments, he was at least fun to watch. I think Rocky is one of the most iconic characters in cinema and his flaws make him as endearing as his triumphs, which is evident here. His excitement to give Adrian a better life and enjoy a few perks himself derails his progress in life, but this is Rocky, so he dusts himself off and gets back to work. That would remain a consistent part of the character, as his journeys into fame and wealth would often crash, but he was able to pick himself up and return to the hard work he grew up with. Carl Weathers is great here as well, bringing Creed’s trash talk to epic new levels and despite being in the background for much of the movie, he still manages to steal some scenes. And I have to mention Burt Young, as Paulie is one of my favorite characters in the Rocky franchise. The cast also includes Talia Shire, Joe Spinell, and Tony Burton.