Rocky II is a worthwhile sequel and a strong follow-up in a series that would produce three more sequels.
What some people seem to forget is that in the original, Rocky doesn't win, he loses by the slimmest of margins. But in the sense of being an underdog, he did what he wanted to accomplish, going the distance against the heavyweight champion of the world. It's such a good story that a sequel isn't necessary. Rocky went the distance, got the girl, and proved everyone wrong. Thankfully, the sequel doesn't mess anything up, instead continuing with an equally as strong story.
After going the distance against heavyweight champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Philly boxer and tough guy Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) adapts to life as a semi-celebrity. With his payday from the fight, he ends up marrying girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), buys a new house for them to live in, goes on a huge shopping spree, and begins to start a family with Adrian expecting a baby soon. But at a certain point, Rocky hits a wall with nowhere to go. He can't get a job with no real skills to offer, but he has to care for his wife and family. All he can think of is getting back into the ring, especially when Apollo comes calling for a rematch to prove that the first fight between them was nothing more than a fluke. With trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) in his corner, Rocky prepares again for the fight of his life on an even bigger stage with bigger expectations.
Made three years after the original, II picks up immediately where the first one leaves off following the championship bout. In general, the story follows the same basic formula as would the later sequels. Home life, relationship with Adrian, personal problems, training montage, and fight. Rinse and repeat if necessary. But just like Rocky, the characters are so engaging that it's an enjoyable ride even if you know where it's going from the start. The whole cast is back as is the ever important Rocky theme, and like I mentioned in the other review, the story of an underdog everyone is betting against is hard to turn down. One thing I'll complain about, the necessary montage sequence -- watch it HERE -- is a little too over the top with the crowd running sequence, even for a Rocky movie.
Seeing the second movie in the series just confirms Stallone's ability as an actor in my head. Building on the character, we see that a little success doesn't change him or who he is. He spends little of his winnings on himself, buying things for those closest to him. At heart, Rocky is still the same lovable galoot he was before he become a celebrity. His corny jokes, his aw shucks way of communicating, how much he loves Adrian, it all adds up perfectly to create this character. In Part II, he's not worried about not being able to hang with the champ, he's worried about the life he has built for himself and how it will impact Adrian and the baby. Stallone didn't get a nomination this time around, but the character is as solid as ever.
What appealed to me about this Rocky entry was the emergence of the supporting cast. Meredith and Weathers were both key figures to the first movie, but they weren't always there with most of the story understandably devoted to Rocky and Adrian. As Mickey, Meredith steals each and every scene he is in as fast-talking, gravelly-voiced trainer who will push Balboa to his limit and then some. He has too many quotable lines to even mention, but my favorite has always been "I think we oughta knock his block off" or the always reliable "You're gonna eat lightning and crap thunder!" Playing Apollo again, Weathers gets more screentime to develop a character that is seriously pissed off the Italian Stallion stuck with him for 15 rounds. Also returning is Burt Young as Rocky's cantankerous friend, Paulie.
One thing I thought was improved on was the actual fight, another brutal, knock down affair between Rocky and Apollo. Instead of just long shots from behind of these two whaling on each other, we get some close-ups like we're there in the ring with the two fighters. Just like the first one, you definitely get the feel and sense of what getting hit in the head repeatedly must feel like. The ending of the first one would be hard to improve on, but this sure comes close on pure emotion and excitement. That's the whole movie summed up. Not as good as the original, but it's awfully close.
Rocky II <----trailer (1979): *** 1/2 /****