Sunday, October 25, 2015

Movie Talk - The Rocky Franchise

A bearded Stallone is always epic!

I think it’s time to “take you back” and look at a strangely still running franchise: The Rocky franchise. Yes, it’s technically still going since we’ll be getting a spinoff called Creed in November. It looks like it could be good and I’ll probably check it out. My memories with the series goes back to about either Fourth or Fifth Grade. Someone rented Rocky III from somewhere and after I saw that, I got to see the fourth and fifth movies. I saw the second movie next.

 I actually saw the first movie when I was in high school on Turner Classic Movies. I don’t know how that worked out like that. I didn’t watch the sixth movie (Rocky Balboa) until about a few months ago. I just never got around to seeing it till then. Over the week, I went and watched the first five movies on Netflix. I’d re-watch the sixth movie, but the DVD got misplaced somehow. So, sit back ‘cause I’m going the distance… I’ll stop the with the quotes now

Rocky was released in 1976. It’s about Rocky, an amateur boxer who’s past his prime. While he's living life and trying to get a girl, Apollo Creed (Heavyweight Champion) is looking for an amateur to fight for the holiday. He randomly picks Rocky from a list of fighters and it’s ultimately on. Mickey, Rocky’s mentor, trains him for the big fight. The movie ultimately builds up to this 15-round match where Rocky faces Apollo in the ring. They go all 15 rounds and Apollo wins via judge’s decision.
Who knew beating meat (get your mind out of the gutter) can help in beating the World Champion?

While it might not be my favorite in the franchise, Rocky is a really good film. I can see why it won and Oscar for Best Picture. It’s the quintessential underdog movie. If anything, it’s probably the sports movie that started the whole “amateur gets to compete in the big leagues” movies. The story is pretty good. Even though it’s been riffed and repeated over the years, this one still holds up as being good. The music arranged by Bill Conti is also pretty good. It sets the mood for everything from the small drama moments to the big moments like the training and the fight. The training scenes and the fight at the end were pretty awesome.

Rocky himself was a good character. He may not be perfect and not bright at times, but he is an ordinary man with a good heart deep down. I liked the rest of the characters like Adrian, Apollo, and Mickey. I especially liked Mickey and he was one of the best things about the movie and the franchise in general. The only character I didn’t like here was Paulie and it’s easy to see why. He’s just not a likable character. I don’t really have any negatives to say about the movie. Everything is done so well that it’s hard to really pick at it and see what doesn’t work. Overall, this was as close to perfect as it could be.

Rocky II
Rocky II was released in 1979. The movie literally picks up a couple of hours after the first fight and spans a few months. Since Apollo only won  via judge’s decision, he wants another fight with Rocky. Due to his injuries and the fact that Adrian doesn’t want to do it, Rocky retires. He and Adrian get married and try to live a normal life but the money runs dry and Rocky’s not the best at most jobs. When Apollo calls out Rocky in public, he gets back to training at the behest of a pretty pregnant Adrian. Rocky’s training doesn’t go too well and it gets worse when Adrian has complications with their baby. Luckily, things do work out and Adrian gives her support to Rocky. In the end, Rocky and Apollo duke it out for 15 rounds with Rocky winning by knockout.

Duh, duh, duh! Suspense!

Rocky II was another good one. I liked the story for the most part. We see that Rocky’s new fame doesn’t go all that well for him. He doesn’t spend his money well and finding jobs is hard to come by when you’ve gotten a lot of lumps to the head. At least he has Adrian. Their relationship continues to grow in the movie. Mickey is still a hoot and gives some good wisdom. Even Paulie is a little more likable this time around… just a little.
Ya ain't eatin' this chicken, Rock! Yer diet's lightning,  remember?

Apollo comes off as more antagonistic this time around. While he did win the first fight, he feels that he didn’t give his all in that first fight. While he is a more of a jerk this time around, I did like him and the rivalry between he and Rocky. As usual, the music is good. They get a lot of usage out of the original score to the first film and they will keep doing that afterwards. The training sequence was awesome and probably the best. Finally, the fight at the end was good and it’s possibly better than the first one.

I don’t have many negatives about the film. It does get a little slow in a few parts. The times where Rock is looking for a job and the long scenes at the chapel are a couple of examples. Other than that, the movie is good. It may not be my favorite of the six, but it has a lot of good things to it.

Rocky III
Rocky III was released in 1982. It’s supposed to take place about three to four years after Rocky won the belt. At this time, Rocky and the family is living the good life and he’s defended his belt since that time. That all changes when a brute by the name of Clubber Lang calls out Rocky for a match for the title. Mickey pleads with Rocky not to go through with it since he’s lost that edge during those four years. Rocky goes through with it anyway and loses the match because of his lost edge and the fact that Mickey had a heart attack. After Mickey passed away from his heart issues, former rival Apollo Creed decides to help Rocky get back his title and his edge. In the end, Rocky regains his title from Clubber.

While it is a bit more action-packed that the previous two, I really like this one. It actually may be my favorite of the six movies. We get Rocky doing well for himself when he gets brought down hard in a big way. Mickey’s death scene is well done and really sad. I like that Rocky basically had to get back his mojo and learn a new way to beat his opponent. I liked having Apollo train him. Even though they were rivals, they still treated each other with respect and it was good to see that here. Adrian also gets a nice moment in here.

I liked Mr. T as Clubber Lang. While he was the stereotypical villain in the piece, he was a good one. He’s also really quotable. The fights were entertaining as ever though I do wonder how Clubber won so much with all those crosses. The music is still good. Even though we still got Bill Conti’s score kicking butt, we have Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” adding a cool (though cheesy) feel. The scene with Thunderlips (played by Hulk Hogan) wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but it was pretty hilarious. The only real negative I can give the movie is its overall plot. The plot is a bit predictable since you know Rocky is going to get his belt back. Overall, I like the movie and it might be my favorite of the six.

Rocky IV
Rocky IV was released in 1985. I think it’s supposed to take place a couple of years after the last movie but it’s not really made clear. The Soviet Union wants to show their champion, Ivan Drago, out to the world. Apollo Creed (at the behest of Rocky) decides to face him in an exhibition match. The match goes poorly with Drago killing Creed. Rocky blames himself and decides (at the behest of mostly everyone) to fight Drago in Russia. The two fighters train their butts off for the fight. The fight ends up going 15 rounds (somehow) and Rocky wins by knockout. The movie ends with Rocky apparently ending the Cold War… Well, someone had to do it!
This is pretty epic... and really cheesy.

So… Rocky IV isn’t the best of the six. While it’s probably not my least favorite Rocky movie, it’s definitely the worst in terms of quality story-telling. The story is pretty light this time around. It’s ultimately a revenge story. There’s little drama in it especially in the second half of the movie. In other words, it’s all action, baby! It’s also pretty predictable and copies a lot of what Rocky III did. The villains are pretty one-dimensional and a bit under developed. I also didn’t like Apollo’s death here. While Apollo getting into the ring is somewhat in-character, I liked him and I didn’t want to see him go out like this. Finally, what was up with that robot?
Oh Apollo... at least you got to dance with the King of Soul.

While I do have qualms about it, it is still pretty entertaining. While there are many montages, at least most of them are pretty cool. I also like the music and yes, I know it got a Razzie for Worst Musical Score. It may not be Bill Conti, but I liked it anyway. It’s the type of music that’s need to be exercised to. By the way, Vince DiCola (the composer) also did the music for Transformers: the Movie and used pieces of Drago’s theme for Unicron’s theme (could be the other way around). The fight at the end was pretty unrealistic but entertaining. Overall, it’s not the best of the six but it has its entertaining moments.

Rocky V
Rocky V was released in 1990. For some reason, the movie takes place after the fight with Drago. They head home and start to run into issues. Paulie accidentally signed the power of attorney over to their accountant who eventually stole their money. They lose all of their money because of this and Rocky can’t do anything about it since he’s received brain damage from his fight with Drago. The family moves back to their old neighborhood and try to live life. Rocky ends up meeting a young fighter named Tommy Gunn and he starts to help Tommy get better while accidentally ignoring his family and son. Unfortunately, Tommy gets pulled under the influence of George Duke, a promoter who’s been trying to get Rocky back into the ring. While Rocky does fix things with his family, his friendship with Tommy ends and the movie ends with a street fight between the two boxers.
Rocky: Hey, kid. Aren't you supposed to be like, six years old or something?
Robert: Don't mind it, Dad. The writer didn't... Oh yeah. Some guy named Sylvester wrote this.
Rocky: Go to your room.

A lot of folk (even Stallone himself) consider this to be the worst Rocky movie. I actually don’t see that since I actually think it’s okay. It’s definitely not the best of the six but it’s not the worst. I think that can spot might be saved for Rocky IV. Instead of Rocky going into another fight, the obstacle is pretty different this time. He can’t box anymore and he loses his money because of shady business. I liked how they dealt with him and the family dealing with their new status. Adrian had some good moments. I also though Robert/Rocky Jr. (played by Stallone’s son, Sage) wasn’t half bad in the role. Burgess Meredith’s return as Mickey (via flashback) is also a really good moment and kind of funny (“Get up, you son of a b####! 'Cause Mickey loves you.”) The music was also pretty good using Conti’s music and introducing some hip hop into the mix.
Yes Tommy! Beat up the guy who trained you and has brain damage... Idiot. The mullet got to him.

While I did like Rocky’s  side of things, most of everything else wasn’t that good. The continuity was off with Rocky’s son is the biggest WTH. It was also off in Rocky IV but this is really noticeable. Personally, they should have set a couple of years later and things would have been fine. The way they lost everything was weird and felt rushed. I also thought it was weird for them to go back to their old neighborhood but I get why they went back there. The idea was to take Rocky back to his roots and they did it in a literal way.

While George Duke was a different villain from the rest, he was pretty one-note. Tommy Gunn was also a bit on the “meh” side but I think that’s because of some of the story and the actor, Tommy Morrison. The fight at the end was fun but pretty cheesy with all of the sideline comments. Overall, Rocky V isn’t that bad but I can see why people consider it the worst. There are worst sequels out there and this movie isn’t one of them in my opinion.

Rocky Balboa
Finally, we have Rocky Balboa and it was released in 2006. It’s supposed to take place about 15-ish (I’m not sure) years after Rocky V. Rocky is still in the old neighborhood and is now a widower since Adrian had passed away from cancer years earlier. His relationship with his son, Robert, is strained a bit. He runs a small restaurant and even reconnects with Marie (the young girl from the first movie). When ESPN shows a virtual fight between him (in his prime) and the reigning champion, Mason Dixon, this gives Rocky the idea to get back into the ring for local bouts. Dixon’s managers are able to get Rocky to get into a 10-round exhibition match with Mason. Rocky gets with Paulie, Robert, and Duke in order to get back into some shape. In the end, the fight happens and Mason wins in a split decision. Now with this last fight behind him, Rocky gets on with life.
Hopefully, I get to look decent at age 60.

 While it does feel like a retread of the first two movies, I did like this one. Here, Rocky is an old man who feels like he has one more fight in him. I do like the overall story with him trying to move on with his life after Adrian’s death. I liked the relationship with Marie and I especially liked that it wasn’t a romantic one. It’s hinted that something like that could happen, but it doesn’t here. I also liked the things between him and his son. I also liked Mason Dixon as the antagonist. He’s basically Apollo 2.0 since his story kind of mirrors what Apollo was going through in the first movie.
Aw... the dude from Heroes really looks like he could be Stallone's son.

The music is good as ever and it was cool to hear that Conti music in a modern setting. The training scene and fight were really well done. The idea of Rocky coming out of retirement at his age does feel ludicrous but the movie handles that aspect really well in my opinion. They even explain away the “permanent” brain damage from Rocky V. There isn’t much I don’t like about the movie. It does feel like a retread of what we’ve seen before and it also has its really slow moments. Other than that and a couple of other things, this was a nice end to the franchise.


And that’s all I got for today. Overall, I do like the Rocky series. Even thought it had its pretty low moments, there are enough good things about the franchise that make it worth watching again and again. As for Creed, I might go see it in theatres but I’m not sure yet. Well, I'm out. Peace, God Bless, and "if I can change and you can change, everybody can change!"

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