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ROCKY II

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith
Director:  Sylvester Stallone
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  Trailer
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  August 30, 2005

“Yo, Adrian…

I DID IT!!”

Film ***1/2

Can it really be possible that Sylvester Stallone, now 60, is really bringing Rocky back?  It’s hard to believe.  After nearly a decade of mostly direct-to-video releases and flying well below the radar, it looks like Sly is really dusting off the classic character for one more go.  As much as I love Rocky Balboa, and as much hope as I have that his return to the screen will be something memorable, all indications are that the new installment is only going to finally pull the once-great franchise off of life support.  A sad day for fans.

But Rocky sure had his heyday, didn’t he?  When Stallone, a struggling young writer and actor, first brought his brawling sensation into movie houses and the hearts of fans everywhere, it seemed almost natural…nay, inevitable that the Italian Stallion would come back for another round.  Rocky was an Oscar-winning, crowd pleasing monster of a success, and crowds wanted more.  Specifically, they wanted to see the Rock accomplish what he couldn’t quite do the first go around…namely, topple the mighty Apollo Creed (Weathers) for that elusive heavyweight title.

Rocky II begins with a brief recap of that legendary battle.  Apollo declares there won’t be a rematch.  But the fighters have barely made it to the hospital before Creed starts succumbing to the taunts and notions of those who thought he either carried Rocky for their fight or just downright blew it.  A rematch is the only way Creed can prove to the world that he’s still the one true undefeated champion.

But Rocky, who suffered eye damage as a result of the fight, is ready to retire, go back to normal life, and marry his beloved Adrian (Shire).  With the purse he made from the match, he does pretty good for awhile.  But money doesn’t last forever.  After failing to parlay his fifteen minutes of fame into a lucrative career, Rocky and Adrian are finding making ends meet the biggest struggle of all.

In the meantime, the angry Creed begins an all out humiliation campaign to bring the Stallion back.  Afraid of having her husband killed or permanently disabled, the now-pregnant Adrian refuses to support Rocky’s desire to go back into the ring.  His longsuffering manager Mickey (the always superb Meredith) is ready to make Rocky into a more dangerous fighting machine than ever.  But soon, complications with Adrian’s pregnancy derail Rocky’s ability to get his heart into the fight.  What will become of them?

Well, I’m sure most fans know the answer.  The final match surpasses anything we’ve seen before, and boasts for my money the greatest ending ever to a sports movie.  In fact, I think one of the reasons I love the early Rocky films so much is that we don’t see boxing like that for real anymore.  In the old days, boxers would pummel each other into bloody goo.  Today, one fighter can’t get his hands up, and the ref calls the bout.  Much better for the health of the athletes, to be sure, but man, watch some of those old brawls on ESPN Classic and you get a feel for what’s missing today.

Stallone again wrote the screenplay, and this time stepped into the director’s chair as well as the boxing ring.  His first foray into directing Rocky was a supreme success…he handled the material with an astute eye, blending the drama, comedy and action into a winner of a picture.  Maybe the exact power of the first film could never be duplicated.  But he came DAMNED close with the second one.

It’s gonna be painful to see a 60 year old Rocky putting on the gloves…it’ll probably look as ridiculous as it sounds.  All athletes have a prime, and all of them pass it sooner or later.  Rocky may be long beyond his, but it’ll always be great fun to go back and revisit those early days when Stallone, like Rocky himself, shook up the world.

Video ***

The anamorphic offering is a decent one…a tad muted here and there, and a few noticeable marks on the print from age, but nothing worth complaining about. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix doesn’t use a lot of subwoofer or rear stages (except during the final stretch), but it’s still a workable effort overall.  Dialogue is clean and clear (well, when you can understand Rocky), and Bill Conti’s music is always a sublime positive.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Rocky V put the franchise into a coma.  Rocky Balboa may remove the tubes.  But thankfully, there are still the early chapters in the fighter’s life for film fans to go back to.  Rocky II is an undisputed champion.

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